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By Viscount Haldane 

Op Goethe Sainte-Beuve held that he was the "king 
of criticism." Sainte-Beuve was among the most com- 
petent of judges on such a point, and Matthew Arnold 
has endorsed his conclusion. The reason for it is not 
V/j far to seek. Goethe's gifts as a critic fell within a 
' large whole of knowledge which was his in a degree for 
which we must look back over two thousand years to 
Aristotle if we wish to find a rival. He wrote lyrics 
that are supreme in their kind. His capacity for ob- 
servation of nature was, as Helmholtz has pointed out, 
v/^ of the first order. Although he hated philosophy, he 
p3 had, none the less, a fine instinct for great metaphysical 
^ conceptions. Spinoza and Kant both made appeal to 
^ him, and the appeal was responded to from the depths 
of his nature. The world has seen no poem like Faust, 
with the exquisite perfection of the " Dedication " and 
the lyrical outbursts with which the first part is 
. ^ studded, set in a structure which signifies a profound 
•^j conception of life as a whole, into which far-reaching 
^ reflection has entered. The second part of the drama 
^ is as great in this latter regard as is the first part in 
, ^ its occasional exhibitions of the purest lyrical gift. 

Goethe's work was uneven, as was his hfe. That is 
f^ what we must expect from the variety which both con- 
tained. But through each a great purpose is obvi- 
ously in process of continuous realization, a purpose 



which never flags, of presenting the world as a place 
where man may work out what is directed towards 
the highest and belongs to what is above Time. It is 
aiwajs the effort that counts, and not any result out- 
side, conceived abstractly and apart from the effort. 
The quality of the struggle " to conquer life and free- 
dom daily anew " is what constitutes the victory. We 
are apt to remain with Goethe's poetry and to content 
ourselves with the enjoj^ment of its perfection. But 
that is to miss half the lesson which this man, one of 
the very greatest sons the earth ever bore, has to teach 
us. It is his outlook on life as a whole which we must 
master if we would learn for ourselves what freedom 
from what is narrow means with him. And this out- 
look we find at least as much in his criticism as in his 
lyrics. We have to turn to the AutohiographT/, to 
MeisteVy and to the Prose Sayings, if we would 
find the other half. Beyond these books, too, there 
remains much else which it would occupy years for 
the student to discover for himself unaided. 

That IS why a book such as that to which these lines 
are written by way of preface may prove a source of 
help and inspiration to the general reader. 




On German Architecture 3 

Introduction to the Propylcea 15 

Upon the Laocoon .... ... 22 

The Collector and his Friends 36 

On Truth and Probability in Works of Art . . 51 

Simple Imitation of Nature, Manner, Style . . 59 

Ancient and Modern 65 

Notes on Dilettantism .... . . 71 


The Production of a National Classic 
Goethe's Theory of a World Literature 
On Epic and Dramatic Poetry . 
Supplement to Aristotle's Poetics 
t^On the German Theatre 
^^Jl^ieck's Dramaturgic Fragments 
On Didactic Poetry 
Superstition and Poetry 
The Methods of French Criticism 
i-On Criticism 



'^ilhelm Meister's Critique of Hamlet . . .145 

Shakespeare ad Infinitum 174 

JPhe First Edition of Hamlet . . , . . .190 
-^roilus and Cressida . . . , * . . .195 


Goethe as a Young Reviewer 199 

r^yron's Manfred 202 

^-^Byron's Don Juan 205 

t»^Calderon's Daughter of the Air .... 208 

*-JVroliere's Misanthrope ^ . 212 

Old German Folksongs 213 

Folksongs again Commended 220 

Laurence Sterne 222 

The English Reviewers 224 

German Literature in Goethe's Youth . . . 226 





The Universality of Poetry, 249; Poetry and 
Patriotism, 251 ; Poetry and History, 253; Origi- 
nality, 255; Personality in Art, 258; Subject- 
matter of Poetry, 259; The Influence of En- 
vironment, 261; Culture and Morals, 263; 
Classic and Romantic, 263; Taste, 264; Style, 
265 ; Intellect and Imagination, 266 ; Definition 
of Poetry, 266; Definition of Beauty, 266; 
Architecture and Music, 267 ; Primitive Poetry, 
267; Weltliteratur, 267; French Critics, 268; jHie 
fc-^nstruction of a Good Play, 268; Dramat ic 
Unities 270; The Theatre, 271; Acting, 27'l; 
Dramatic Situations, 272; Management of the 
Theatre, 272; Menander, 273; Calderon, 273; 
Moliere, 273; Shakespear e, 275; A. W. Schle- 
gel's Lectures~~on Dramatic Art and Literature, 
276; The French Romanticists, 277; Victor 
Hugo, 279; The "Idea" of Tasso and Faust, 
280; Schiller, 282; Edinburgh Review, 283; 
Byron, 283; Scott, 286. 


I. On the Selection and Translation of the Es- 
says in this Volume 291 

XL On the Chronology of Goethe's Critical Studies 295 

INDEX « . V . . A .: « i.j >- • 301 





Von Deutscheb Baukunst 

D. M. 

Ervini a Steinbach 

As I wandered about at your grave, noble Erwin,^ in 
order to pour out my veneration for you at the sacred 
spot itself, I looked for the stone which bore this in- 
scription: "Anno Domini 1318, XVI. Kal. Febr. 
obiit Magister Ervinus, Gubernator Fabricae Ecclesiae 
Argentinensis ;" and when I could not find it and none 
of your countrymen could point it out to me, I became 
sad of soul, and my heart, younger, warmer, more 
tender and better than it is now, vowed a memorial to 
you, of marble or sandstone, as might be in my power, 
when I came into the peaceful enjoyment of my fortune. 

But what need have you for a memorial 1 You have 
built the most splendid memorial for yourself; and al- 
though the ants who crawl around there do not trouble 
themselves about your name, yet you have a destiny 
like that of the builder who heaped up mountains into 
the clouds. 

To few has it been granted to create such mighty 

lErwin von Steinbach, one of the architects of the Strassburg 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

ideas in their minds, complete, gigantic, and consist- 
ently beautiful down to the last detail, like trees of 
God: to fewer was it given to find a thousand willing 
hands to work, to excavate the rocky foundation, to 
conjure up towering structures upon it, and then when 
dvin^ to sav to their sons, — I remain with vou in the 
works of mv genius : carry on to its completion in the 
clouds what I have begun. 

What need have you for memorials! and from me! 
When the rabble utters sacred names, it is either super- 
stition or blasphemy. Those of feeble spirit and taste 
wiQ always have their head tamed before your mighty 
work, and genuine souls will come to know you without 
a guide. 

Therefore, honored man, before I venture again my 
patched-up bark upon the ocean, destined as it is more 
likely to death than to fame and fortune, see, here in 
this grove where bloom the names of my loves, I cut 
yours on a beech-tree which lifts its slender trunk high 
in the air like your own tower, and I bans' on it 
too this handkerchief filled with gifts, not unlike that 
sheet which was let down from the clouds to the holy 
apostle, full of clean and unclean beasts; for this is 
full of flowers and buds and leaves, and some dried 
grass and moss and fungi, which on my walk through 
these uninteresting regions I coldly gathered as a pas- 
time for my botanical collection, — I dedicate them to 
death in your honor. 

What a trivial style, says the Italian, and passes by. 
Childishness, lisps the Frenchman, and snaps his finger 
against his snufi^-box a la Grecque. ^Vhat have you 
done that you dare to despise.^ 


On German Architecture 

But you. Italian, you have let the genius of the 
ancients, arising from its grave, fetter and bind your 
own.. You crept to beg for artistic knowledge from the 
splendid relics of the olden time, you patched together 
palaces from these sacred ruins, and consider your- 
self the guardian of the secrets of art, because you can 
give account of the measurements by inch and line of 
enormous buildings. Had you felt more than you 
measured, had the spirit of the gigantic structures at 
which you gazed come to you, you would not have 
imitated merely because they did it thus and it is 
beautiful. But you would have created your own de- 
signs, and there would have flowed out of them living 
beauty to instruct you. 

Thus upon your shortcomings you have plastered a 
whitewashing, a mere appearance of truth and beauty. 
The splendid effect of pillars struck you, you wished to 
use them in your building and have great rows of 
columns too; so you encircled St. Peter's with marble 
passageways, which lead nowhere in particular, so that 
mother Xature, who despises and hates the inappropri- 
ate and the unnecessary, drove your rabble to prosti- 
tute that splendor for public " cloaca," with the result 
that you turn away your eyes and hold your nose be- 
fore the wonder of the world. 

Everything goes the same way: the whim of the 
artist serves the caprice of the rich man; the writer 
of travels stands agape, and our beaux esprits, called 
philosophers, wrest out of formless myths facts and 
principles of art to be applied to the present day : and 
their evil genius murders sincere men at the threshold 
of these mysteries. 

More harmful to the genius than examples are rules. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Before his time individual men may have worked up in- 
dividual parts and aspects. He is the first from whose 
mind come the parts grown together into one ever-living 
whole. But a school or a rule fetters all the power of 
his insight and his activity. What is it to us, you mod- 
ern French philosophical critic, that the first inventor, 
responding to necessity, stuck four trunks in the 
ground, bound on them four poles and covered it all 
with branches and moss? To determine from this what 
is appropriate for our present needs is like demanding 
that your new Babylon be ruled by the old despotic 
patriarchal father-right. 

And in addition it is not true that this house of yours 
is the most primitive form in the world. That with two 
poles in front crossed at the end, two in back and one 
lying straight between them for a ridge-pole is, as we 
can notice every day in the huts in the fields and vine- 
yards, a far more primitive invention, from which you 
could hardly abstract a principle for your pig-pen. 

Thus none of your conclusions are able to rise into 
the region of truth, but all hang in the lower atmos- 
phere of your system. You wish to teach us what we 
ought to use, since what we do use, according to your 
principles cannot be justified. 

The column is very dear to you, and in another clime 
you would be prophet. You say: The column is the 
first essential ingredient of a building, and the most 
beautiful. What noble elegance of form, what pure 
grandeur, when they are placed in a row ! Only guard 
against using them inappropriately ; it is their nature 
to be free and detached. Alas for the unfortunates 
who try to join the slender shape of them to heavy walls ! 

On German Architecture 

Yet it seems to me, dear abbe, that the frequent 
repetition of this impropriety of building columns into 
walls, so that the moderns have even stuffed the inter- 
columnia of ancient temples with masonry, might have 
aroused in your mind some reflections. If your ears 
were not deaf to the truth, these stones would have 
preached a sermon to you. 

Columns are in no way an ingredient in our dwell- 
ings ; they contradict rather the style of all our build- 
ings. Our houses have not their origin in four columns 
placed in four corners. They are built out of four 
walls on four sides, which take the place of columns, 
indeed exclude all columns, and where these are used 
to patch up, they are an encumbrance and a super- 
fluity. This is true of our palaces and churches, with 
the exception of a few cases, which I do not need to 

Thus your buildings exhibit mere surface, which, the 
broader it Is extended, — the higher it is raised to the 
sky, — the more unendurable must become the monotony 
which oppresses the soul. But Genius came to our aid, 
and said to Erwin von Stelnbach: Diversify the huge 
wall, which you are to raise heavenward, so that it may 
soar like a lofty, far-spreading tree of God, which with 
a thousand branches, millions of twigs, and leaves like 
the sand of the sea, proclaims everywhere the glory of 
God, Its Master. 

When I went for the first time to the Minster, my 
head was full of the common cant of " good taste." 
From hearsay, I was an admirer of the harmony of 
mass, the purity of form, and was a sworn enemy to 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

the confused arbitrariness of Gothic adornment. Under 
the term, " Gothic," like the article in a dictionary, I 
piled all the misconceptions which had ever come into 
my head, of the indefinite, the unregulated, the un- 
natural, the patched-up, the strung-together, the super- 
fluous, in art. No wiser than a people which calls the 
whole foreign world, " barbarous," everything was 
Gothic to me that did not fit into my system, from the 
turned wooden dolls and pictures of gay colors, with 
which the bourgeois nobility decorate their houses, 
to the dignified relics of the older German architecture, 
my opinion of which, because of some bizarre scroll- 
work, had been that of everybody, — " Quite buried in 
ornamentation ! " ; consequently I had an aversion to 
seeing it, such as I would have before a malformed 
bristling monster. 

With what unexpected emotions did the sight sur- 
prise me when I actually saw it ! An impression of 
grandeur and unity filled my soul, which, because it 
consisted of a thousand harmonizing details, I could 
taste and enjoy, but by no means understand and ex- 
plain. They say it is thus with the rapture of heaven. 
How often I returned to enjoy this heavenly-earthly 
rapture, to embrace the stupendous genius of our older 
brothers in their works. How often I returned to view 
from every side, at every distance, in every light of the 
day, its dignity and splendor. Hard it is for the mind 
of man when his brother's work is so elevated that he 
can only bow down and pray. How often has the even- 
ing twilight refreshed with its friendly calm my eyes 
wearied by too much gazing; it made countless details 
melt together into a complete whole and mass, and 
now, simple and grand, it stood before my eyes, and, 

On German Architecture 

full of rapture, my power unfolded itself both to enjoy 
and to understand it at once. There was revealed to 
me in soft intimations the genius of the great builder. 
"Why are you astonished?" He whispered to me. "All 
these masses were necessary, and do you not see them 
in all the older churches of my city? Only I have 
given harmonious proportion to their arbitrary vast- 
nesses. See how, over the principal entrance which 
commands two smaller ones on either side, the wide 
circle of the window opens which corresponds to the 
nave of the church and was formerly merely a hole to 
let the light in; see how the bell-tower demands the 
smaller windows ! All this was necessary, and I de- 
signed it with beauty. But what of these dark and 
lofty apertures here at the side which seem to stand so 
empty and meaningless? In their bold slender forms 
I have hidden the mysterious strength which was to raise 
both of those towers high in the air, of which alas only 
one stands there sadly, without the crown of five towers 
which I had planned for it, so that to it and its royal 
brother the country about w^ould do homage." And so 
he parted from me, and I fell into a sympathetic mood 
of melancholy, until the birds of morning, which dwelt 
in its thousand orifices, greeted the sun joyously and 
waked me out of my slumber. How freshly it shone in 
the morning rays, how joyfully I stretched my arms 
towards it, surveying its vast harmonious masses, ani- 
mated by countless delicate details of structure! as in 
the works of eternal Nature, every form, down to the 
smallest fibril, alive, and everything contributing to the 
purpose of the whole 1 How lightly the monstrous, 
solidly grounded building soared into the air ! how free 
and delicate everything about it, and yet solid for eter- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

nity ! To your teaching, noble genius, I owe thanks that 
I did not faint and sink before your heights and depths, 
but that into my soul flowed a drop of that calm rap- 
ture of the mighty soul which could look on this crea- 
tion, and like God say, — " It is good ! " 

And now I ought not to be angry, revered Erwin, 
when the German critic and scholar, taking the cue 
from envious neighbors, and misjudging the superiority 
of your work, belittles it by the little understood term, 
" Gothic " ; since he ought rather to give thanks that 
he can proclaim loudly that this is German architec- 
ture, — our architecture, — whereas the Italians cannot 
boast of any distinctively native style, much less the 
French. And if you are not willing to admit to your- 
self this superiority, at least show us tli.en that the 
Goths have already built in this style, — in which effort 
you may encounter some difficulties. And finally, if 
you cannot demonstrate that there was a Homer al- 
ready before Homer, then we will gladly allow the story 
of small attempts, successful and unsuccessful, and 
come reverently back to the, work of the master who 
first drew the scattered elements together into one liv- 
ing whole. And you, my dear brother in the spirit, in 
your search for truth and beauty, close your ears to 
the loud talk about the plastic arts, — come, enjoy, 
survey. Beware of desecrating the name of your noblest 
artist, and hasten here that you may enjoy and see his 
glorious work. If it makes an unfavorable impression 
or none, then farewell, hitch up, and take the road 
straight for Paris. 

But you I would accompany, dear youth, who stand 
there, your soul moved, and yet unable to harmonize 

On German Architecture 

the contradictions which conflict in your mind, now 
feeling the irresistible power of the great whole, now 
calling -me a dreamer for seeing beauty where you see 
only violence and roughness. Do not let a misunder- 
standing part us, do not let the feeble teaching of the 
modern standards of beauty spoil you for vigorous 
though rough strength, so that finally your sickly sen- 
sibility is able to endure only meaningless insipidities. 
They would have you believe that the fine arts 
originated in the tendency which they impute to us to 
beautify the things about us. That is not true! For 
in the sense in which it could be true, it is the bourgeois 
and the artisans who use the words and not the 
philosopher. ^^ r^ -., ., .; ,- ^ cr v ••• .^e ■ 

Art -Jias-a-4ong period of growth before it is beau- 
tiful, certainly sincere and great art has, and it is 
often sincerer and greater then than when it -becomes 
beautiful. For in man there is a creative disposition, 
which comes into activity as soon as his existence is as- 
sured. As soon as he has nothing to worry about or to 
fear, this semi-divinity in him, working effectively in 
his spiritual peace and assurance, grasps materials into 
which to breathe its own spirit. Thus the savage de- 
picts, with strange lines and forms, ghastly figures, 
lurid colors, his weapons and his body. And even if 
these pictures consist of the most arbitrary and incon- 
gruous forms and lines, they will, without any intended 
proportion or balance, yet have a sort of harmony; 
for a unity of feeling created out of them a character- 
istic whole. 

Now this characteristic art is the only genuine art. 
If only it comes fresh from the inner soul, expressing 
the original, unique sensibilities, untroubled, indeed 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

unconscious of any external element, it may spring 
from rough savagery or from cultivated sensitiveness, 
yet it will always be complete and alive. This you can 
see among nations and individual men in countless de- 
grees. The more the soul rises to the feeling for rela- 
tions, which alone are beautiful and from eternity, 
whose master-chords one can demonstrate, whose mys- 
teries one can only feel, in which alone the life of the 
divine genius seeks expression in enraptured melodies ; 
the more this beauty pervades the soul of a genius so 
that it seems to have originated with him, so that noth- 
ing else satisfies him, so that he can bring nothing else 
out of himself, the more fortunate is the artist, the more 
splendid is he, and the more reverently do we stand 
there and worship God's anointed. 

From the level to which Erwin has mounted no one 
will drag him down. Here stands his work ; gaze at it 
and appreciate the deepest feelings for truth and beauty 
and proportion, working out of a strong, sturdy, rough 
German soul, out of the narrow, somber, priest-haunted 
" medium aevum." 

And our own " aevum " .? It has neglected its genius, 
driven forth its sons to collect strange excrescences for 
their corruption. The agile Frenchman, who in un- 
scrupulous fashion collects where he will, has at least 
an ingenuity in working together his booty into a sort 
of unity ; he builds his wonderful church of the Magda- 
lene out of Greek columns and German arches and 
vaults. From one of our architects, who was requested 
to design a portal for an old German church, I have 
seen a model of perfect, stately antique column-work. 

How hateful our varnished doll-painters are to me I 
cannot express. By their theatrical positions, their 

On German Architecture 

false tints, and gaily-colored costumes, they have cap- 
tured the eyes of women. But, manly Albrecht Diirer, 
whom these novices laugh at, your woodcut figures are 
more welcome to me. 

And you yourselves, excellent men, to whom it was 
given to enjoy the higliest beauty, and now come down 
to announce your bliss, you do prejudice to genius. It 
will soar and progress on no alien wings, even though 
they were the wings of the morning. Its own original 
powers are those which unfold in the dreams of child- 
hood, which grow during the life of youth, until strong 
and supple like the mountain-lion he starts out after 
his prey. Nature does most in training these powers, 
for you pedagogues can never counterfeit the multi- 
farious scene which she provides for a youth to draw 
from and enjoy in the measure of his present 

Welcome, to you, young man, who have been born 
with a keen eye for form and proportion, with the fa- 
cility to practise in all forms. If then there awakes 
gradually in you the joy of life, and you come to feel 
the rapture which men know after work, fear and hope, 
— the spirited cries of the laborer in the vineyard when 
the bounty of the harvest swells his vats, the lively 
dance of the reaper when he has hung his idle sickle 
high on the beam, — when all the powerful nerves of de- 
sire and suffering live again more manfully in your 
brush, and you have striven and suffered enough and 
have enjoyed enough, and are filled with earthly beauty, 
and worthy to rest in the arms of the goddess, worthy 
to feel on her bosom what gave new birth to the deified 
Hercules — then receive him, heavenly beauty, thou 
mediator between gods and men, and let him, more than 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Prometheus, carry down the rapture of the gods to the 

1 " What I had thought and imagined with respect to that 
style of architecture, I wrote in a connected form. The first point 
on which I insisted was that it should be called German, and not 
Gothie; that it should be considered not foreign, but native. 
The second point was that it could not be compared with the 
architecture of the Greeks and Romans, because it sprang from 
quite another principle. If these, living under a more favorable 
sky, allowed their roof to rest upon columns, a wall, broken 
through, arose of its own accord. We, however, who must always 
protect ourselves against the weather, and everywhere surround 
ourselves with walls, have to revere the genius who discovered 
the means of endowing massive walls with variety, of apparently 
breaking them through, and of thus occupying the eye in a 
worthy and pleasing manner on a broad surface. ... If I had 
been pleased to write down these views (the value of which I 
will not deny) clearly and distinctly, in an intelligible style, the 
paper On German Architecture would then, when I published it, 
have produced more effect, and would sooner have drawn the 
attention of the native friends of art. But, misled by the ex- 
ample of Herder and Hamann, I obscured these very simple 
thoughts and observations by a dusty cloud of words and phrases, 
and, both for myself and others, darkened the light which had 
arisen within me. However, the paper was well received, and 
rejjrinted in Herder's work on German Manner and Art." — ■ 
Goethe, Autobiography (1812). The "dear abbe" to whom 
Cioethe is replying in this essay is the Abbe Laugier, author of 
the Essai sur I' Architecture (1753). 




There is no more striking sign of the decay of art 
than when we find its separate provinces mixed up to- 

The arts themselves, as well as their subordinate 
forms, are closely related ):o each other, and have a 
certain tendency to unite, and even lose themselves in 
each other ; but herein lies the duty, the merit, the dig- 
nity of the true artist, that he knows how to separate 
that department in which he labors from the others, 
and, so far as may be, isolates it. 

It has been noticed that all plastic art tends towards 
painting, all poetry to the drama; and this may fur- 
nish the text for some important observations here- 

The genuine, law-giving artist strives after artistic 
truth ; the lawless, following a blind instinct, after an 
appearance of naturalness. The former leads to the 
highest pinnacle of art, the latter to its lowest step. 

This is no less true of the separate arts than of art 
in general. The sculptor must think and feel differ- 
ently from the painter, and must go to work differently 
to execute a work in relief from what he would do with 
a round and complete piece of statuary. When the 
work in low^ relief came to be brought out more and 
more, and by degrees parts and figures were brought 
out from the ground, at last buildings and landscapes 
admitted, and thus a work produced, half picture half 
puppet-show, true art was on the decline ; and it is to be 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

deplored that excellent artists have in more recent times 
taken this direction. 

Whenever we enunciate hereafter such maxims as we 
esteem true, we shall feel a real desire, since these max- 
ims are drawn from works of art, to have them practi- 
cally tested by artists. How seldom does one man agree 
with another concerning a theoretic principle ; the prac- 
tical and immediately useful is far more quickly adopted. 
How often do we see artists at a loss in the choice of 
a subject, in the general composition, according to 
their rules of art, in the arrangement of details ; the 
painter doubtful about the choice of his colors ! Then 
is the time to make trial of a principle; then will it 
be easier to decide the question, — Do we by its aid 
come nearer to the great models, and all that we love 
and prize, or does it forsake us in the empirical con- 
fusion of an experiment not thoroughly thought out? 

If such maxims should prove useful in forwarding the 
culture of artists, in guiding them among difficulties, 
they will also aid the understanding, true estimation, 
and criticism of ancient and modern works, and, vice 
versa, will again be discovered in the examination of 
these works. This is all the more necessary, since, in 
spite of the universally acknowledged excellence of the 
antique, individuals as well as whole nations have in 
modern times often misconceived those very things 
wherein the highest excellence of those works lies. 

An exact scrutiny of these will be the best means 
of securing us against this evil. Let us now take, as 
an example, the usual course of proceeding of the ama- 
teur in plastic art, in order to make it evident how 
necessary a thorough criticism of ancient as well as 
modern works is, if we would profit by it, 

Introduction to The Propylcea 

No person of a fine natural perception, however un- 
cultivated, can see even an imperfect, incorrect cast of 
a fine ancient work without being greatly impressed by 
it; for such a representation still gives the idea, the 
simplicity and greatness of the form, in a word, the 
general notion at least, such as a man of imperfect 
sight would see at a distance. 

We may often observe how a strong inclination to- 
wards art is awakened through such an imperfect re- 
production. But the effect is analogous to the object 
that caused it, and such beginners in art are rather 
impressed with a blind and indefinite feeling than with 
the true worth and significance of the object itself. 
It is such as these who are the authors of the theory 
that a too curious critical examination destroys our 
pleasure, and who decry and resist the investigation of 

But when by degrees their experience and knowl- 
edge become wider, and a sharper cast in place of the 
imperfect one, or an original instead of a cast comes 
under their observation, their satisfaction increases with 
their insight, and continually advances when at last the 
originals themselves, the perfect originals, become known 
to them. 

We are not deterred by the labyrinth of thorough 
examination, when the details are of equal perfection 
with the whole work. Nay, we learn that we are able 
to appreciate the perfect, just so far as we are in a con- 
dition to discern the defective: to distinguish the re- 
stored from the original parts, the copy from the 
model, to contemplate in the smallest fragments the 
scattered excellence of the whole, is a satisfaction that 
belongs only to the perfect connoisseur; and there is 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

a wide difference between the contemplation of an im- 
perfect whole with groping sense, and the seeing and 
seizing, with clear eye, of a perfect one. 

He who devotes himself to any department of knowl- 
edge should aim at the highest. Insight and Practice 
follow widely different paths, for in the practical each 
one soon becomes aware that only a certain measure of 
power is meted to him. But a far greater number 
of men are capable of knowledge, of insight; we may 
even say that every man is so who can deny himself, 
subordinate himself to objects, and does not strive with 
a rigid and narrow individuality to bring in himself 
and his poor onesidedness amid the highest works of 
nature and art. 

To speak suitably, and with real advantage to one's 
self and others, of works of art, can properly be done 
only in tlieir presence. All depends on the sight of the 
object. On this it depends whether the word by which 
we hope to elucidate the work has produced the clearest 
impression or none at all. Hence it so often happens 
that the author who writes concerning works of art 
deals only in generalities, whereby indeed the mind and 
imagination are awakened ; but of all his readers, he 
only will derive satisfaction who, book in hand, ex- 
amines the work itself. 

On this account, therefore, we may in our essays 
often excite rather than gratify the desire of our 
readers ; for there is nothing more natural than that 
they should wish to have before their eyes any excellent 
work of which they read a minute criticism, to enjoy 
that whole which is in question, and to subject to their 
own judgments the opinions they hear concerning the 

Introduction to The Propylwa 

But whilst it is the expectation of the authors to- 
labor in behalf of those who are already acquainted 
with ^ome works and will see others hereafter, we shall 
try to do what is possible for those who have neither 
the prospect nor the retrospect. We shall make men- 
tion of copies, point out where casts from the antique 
or ancient works themselves, especially when these are 
within easy reach, may be found, and thus forward, as 
far as in us lies, a true love and knowledge of art. 

The history of art can be based only on the high- 
est and most complete conception of art; only through 
an acquaintance with the most perfect that man has 
ever been enabled to produce can the chronological and 
psychological progress of mankind in art, as in other 
departments, be displayed. At first a limited activ- 
ity occupied itself in a dry and dismal imitation of 
the insignificant as well as the significant, then a more 
delicate and agreeable feeling of Nature was developed. 
Afterwards, accompanied by knowledge, regularity, 
strength and earnestness, aided by favorable circum- 
stances, art rose to the highest point, until at last 
it became possible for the fortunate genius who found 
himself surrounded by all these auxiliaries to produce 
the enchanting, the perfect. 

Unfortunately, works of art, which give themselves 
forth with such facility, which make men feel them- 
selves so agreeably, which inspire man with clearness 
and freedom, suggest to the artist who would emulate 
them the notion of facility in their production. The 
last achievement of Art and Genius being an appear- 
ance of ease and lightness, the imitator is tempted 
to make it easy for himself, and to labor at this ap- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Thus, by degrees, art declines from its high estate, 
in the whole as well as in details. But if we would 
form to ourselves a true conception of art, we must 
descend to details of details, an occupation by no means 
always agreeable and alluring, but for which gradually 
our eye's ready mastery of the whole will richly indem- 
nify us. 

If we work out certain general principles through 
the examination of ancient and mediaeval works of art, 
we shall find them particularly needful in our judgment 
of contemporary productions ; for in forming an esti- 
mate of living or lately deceased artists, personal con- 
siderations, regard or dislike for individuals, popular 
attraction or repulsion, are so easily mixed up, that 
we are still more in need of principles in order to ex- 
press a judgment of our contemporaries. The exam- 
ination can be undertaken in two ways. Arbitrary in- 
fluence is diminished, and the case is brought into a 
higher court. An opportunity is afforded for proving 
the principles themselves as well as their application; 
and even where we cannot agree, the point in dispute is 
clearly and certainly ascertained. 

We especially desire that living artists, about whose 
works we may perhaps have something to say, should 
make trial of our judgments in this way. For every 
one who deserves this name is in our time called upon 
to form, out of his own experience and reflection, if 
not a theory, at least a certain set of receipts, by the 
use of which he finds himself aided in various cases. But 
it must have been frequently remarked how apt a man 
is, by proceeding in this way, to advance as principles 
certain maxims which are commensurate with his tal- 
ents, his inclinations, his convenience. He is subject 

Introduction to The Propylcea 

to the common lot of mankind. How many in otliet 
departments follow the same course. But we do not 
add to our culture when we simply set in motion with- 
out trouble or difficulty what already existed in us. 
Every artist, like every man, is only an individual be- 
"ing, and will always abide by one side; and therefore 
a man should take in to himself as far as possible 
that which is theoretically and practically opposed to 
him. The lively should look about for strength and 
earnestness, the severe should keep in view the light 
and agreeable, the strong should look for loveliness, 
the delicate for strength, and each will thus best 
cultivate his peculiar nature, while he seems to be 
going most out of himself. Each art demands the 
whole man, the highest step of art all humanity. 

The practice of the imitative arts is mechanical, 
and the cultivation of the artist begins naturally in 
his earliest years with the mechanical. The rest of 
his education is often slighted, whereas it should be far 
more carefully attended to than that of others who have 
the opportunity of learning from life itself. Society 
soon civilizes the unpolished ; a life of business makes 
the most open circumspect. Literary labors, which by 
means of the press come before the great public, find 
resistance and correction on all sides. But the artist 
is for the most part confined to a narrow studio, and 
has few dealings save with those who pay for his works, 
with a public that is often guided only by a certain 
sickly feeling, with connoisseurs who worry him, with 
auctioneers who receive anything new with formulas 
of praise and estimation that would not be too hig;h 
for the most perfect. 




A TRUE work of art, like a true work of nature, never 
ceases to open boundlessly before the mind. We ex- 
amine, — we are impressed with it, — it produces its 
effect; but it can never be all comprehended, still less 
can its essence, its value, be expressed in words. In 
the present remarks concerning the Laocoon, our object 
is by no means to say all that can be said on the sub- 
ject; we shall make this admirable work rather the oc- 
casion than the subject of what we have to say. May 
it soon be placed once more in a situation where all 
lovers of art may be able to enjoy and speak of it, 
each in his own way. 

We can hardly speak adequately of a high work of 
art without also speaking of art in general ; since 
all art is comprehended in it, and each one is able, 
according to his powers, to develop the universal out 
of such a special case. We shall therefore begin with 
some remarks of a general nature. 

All high works of art are expressions of humanity. 
Plastic art relates particularly to the human form; 
it is of this we are now speaking. Art has many steps, 
in all of which there have been admirable artists; but 
a perfect work of art embraces all the qualities that 
are elsewhere encountered only separatelj^ 

The highest works of art that we know exhibit to 
us — 

Upon TJie Laocoon 

Living, highly organized natures. We look, in the 
first place, for a knowledge of the human body, in its 
pares and proportions, inward and outward adaptation, 
its forms and motions generally. 

Character, Knowledge of the varieties in form and 
action of their parts ; peculiarities are discriminated, 
and separately set forth. Out of this results charac- 
ter, through which an important relation may be es- 
tablished among separate works ; and, in like manner, 
when a work is put together, its parts may hold an 
analogous relation to each other. The subject may 

At rest, or in motion. A work, or its parts, may 
either be self-centred, simply showing its character 
in a state of rest, or it may be exhibited in movement, 
activity, or fullness of passionate expression. 

Ideal. To the attainment of this, the artist needs 
a deep, well-grounded, steadfast mind, which must be 
accompanied by a higher sense, in order to comprehend 
the subject in all its bearings, to find the moment of 
expression, to withdraw this from the narrowness of 
fact, and give to it, in an ideal world, proportion, limit, 
reality and dignity. 

Agreeableness. The subject and its mode of exhi- 
bition are moreover connected with the sensible laws 
of art ; viz., harmony, comprehensibility, symmetry, 
contrast, etc. ; whereby it becomes visibly beautiful, or 
agreeable, as it is called. 

Beauty. Farther, we find that it obeys the laws of 
spiritual beauty, which arises from just proportion, 
and to which he who is complete in the creation or 
production of the beautiful knows how to subject even 
the extremes*.: 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Now that I have defined the conditions which we de- 
mand of a high work of art, much will be comprised in 
a few words when I say that the Laocoon group fulfils 
them all, nay, that out of it alone all of th^m could be 

It will be conceded by all that it exhibits acquaint- 
ance with the human form, and with what is charac- 
teristic in it, and at the same time expression and pas- 
sion. In how high and ideal a way the subject is 
treated will presently be shown ; and no one who recog- 
nizes the harmony with which the extremes of bodily 
and mental suffering are set forth can hesitate in call- 
ing the work beautiful. 

On the other hand, many will think I am uttering 
a paradox when I maintain that the work is also 
agreeable. A word upon this point. 

Every work of art must show on the face of it that 
it is such; and this can be done only through what 
we call sensuous beauty, or agreeableness. The ancients, 
far from entertaining the modern notion that a work 
of art must have the appearance of a work of nature, 
designated their works of art as such through an in- 
tentional arrangement of parts ; by means of symmetry 
they rendered easy for the eye an insight into rela- 
tions, and thus a complicated work was made compre- 
hensible. Through symmetry and opposition slight 
deviations were made productive of the sharpest con- 
trasts. The pains of the artist were most happily 
bestowed to place the masses in opposition to each 
other, and particularly in groups, to bring the extremi- 
ties of the bodies against each other in a harmonious 
position; so that every work, when we disregard its 
import, and look only at its general outline from a 

Upon The Laocoon 

distance, strikes the eye by its ornamental air. The 
antique vases furnish a hundred instances of this sort 
of agreeable composition, and perhaps it would be pos- 
sible to exhibit a series of examples of symmetrically 
artistic and charming groupings, from the most quiet 
vase-sculptures up to the Laocoon. I shall therefore 
venture to repeat the assertion that the group of 
Laocoon, in addition to its other acknowledged merits, 
is at once a model of symmetry and variety, of repose 
and action, of contrast and gradation, which produce 
an impression partly sensible, partly spiritual, agree- 
ably stimulate the imagination by the high pathos of 
the representation, and by their grace and beauty tem- 
per the storm of passion and suffering. 

It is a great advantage for a work of art to be self- 
included and complete. An object at rest, exhibiting 
simple being, is thus complete by and in itself. A 
Jupiter, the thunderbolt resting in his lap; a Juno, 
reposing in her majesty and feminine dignity; a Min- 
erva, inwardly intent — are all subjects that have no 
impulse outwards, that rest upon and in themselves ; 
the first, the most lovely subjects of sculpture. But 
within the noble round of the mythic circle of art, 
where these separate self-existent natures stand and 
rest, there are smaller circles, within which the figures 
are conceived and wrought out w^ith reference to other 
figures ; for example, the nine Muses, with their leader, 
Apollo, are each conceived and executed separately, 
but they become far more interesting in their complete 
and diversified choir. When art attempts scenes of 
exalted passion, it can treat them also in the same 
manner; it may either present to us a circle of figures 
holding a passionate relation to each other, like the 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Niobe and her children, pursued by Apollo and Diana, 
or exhibit in the same piece the action and the mo- 
tive; we have in mind such groups as the graceful 
boy extracting the thorn from his foot, the wrestler, 
two groups of fawns and nymphs in Dresden, and the 
noble and animated group of Laocoon. 

Sculpture is justly entitled to the high rank it holds, 
because it can and must carry expression to its high- 
est point of perfection, from the fact that it leaves 
man only the absolutely essential. Thus, in the pres- 
ent group, Laocoon is a bare name; the artists have 
stripped him of his priesthood, his Trojan nationahty, 
of every poetical or mythological attribute; there re- 
mains nothing of all that fable had clothed him with; 
he is a father with his two sons, in danger of destruc- 
tion from two fierce animals. In like manner, we see 
no messenger of the gods, but two plain, natural ser- 
pents, powerful enough to overcome three men, but, by 
no means, either in form or action, supernatural and 
avenging ministers of wrath. They glide in, as it is 
their nature to do, twine around, knot together, and 
one, being irritated, bites. If I had to describe this 
work without knowing the farther intent of it, I should 
say it were a Tragic Idyl. A father was sleeping, 
with his two sons beside him ; two serpents twined about 
them, and now waking, they struggled to free them- 
selves from the living net. 

The expression of the moment is, in this work, of 
the highest importance. When it is intended that a 
work of art shall move before the eye, a passing mo- 
ment must, of course, be chosen ; but a moment ago not 
a single part of the whole was to be found in the po- 
sition it now holds, and in another instant all will be 

Upon The Laocoon 

changed again ; so that it presents a fresh, living image 
to a million beholders. 

In prder to conceive rightly the intention of the 
Laocoon, let a man place himself before it at a proper 
distance, with his eyes shut; then let him open his 
eyes, and shut them again instantly. By this means 
he will see the whole marble in motion ; he will fear lest 
he finds the whole group changed when he opens his 
eyes again. It might be said that, as it stands, it is 
a flash of lightning fixed, a wave petrified in the mo- 
ment it rushes towards the shore. The same effect is 
produced by the contemplation of the group by torch- 

The situation of the three figures is represented 
with a wise gradation. In the oldest son only the ex- 
tremities are entangled; the second is encumbered with 
more folds, and especially by the knot around his 
breast ; he endeavors to get breath by the motion of 
his right arm; with the left he gently holds back the 
serpent's head, to prevent him from taking another 
turn round his breast. The serpent is in the act of 
slipping under the hand, but does not hite. The father, 
on the other hand, tries to set himself and the children 
free by force; he grasps the other serpent, which, ex- 
asperated, bites him on the hip. 

The best way to understand the position of the fa- 
ther, both in the whole and in detail, seems to be to 
take the sudden anguish of the wound as the moving 
cause of the whole action. The serpent has not bit- 
ten, but is just now biting, and in a sensitive part, 
above and just behind the hip. The position of the 
restored head of the serpent does not represent the 
bite correctly ; fortunately, the remains of the two 


Goethe's Literally Essays 

jaws may yet be seen on the hinder part of the statue, 
if only these important vestiges are not destroyed in 
the course of the present paltry alterations. The ser- 
pent inflicts a wound upon the unhappy man, in a 
part where we are excessively sensible to any irrita- 
tion, where even a little tickling is able to produce 
the action which in this case is caused by the wound. 
The figure starts away towards the opposite side, 
the abdomen is drawn in, the shoulder forced down, 
the breast thrust out, the head sinks towards the 
wounded side; the secondary portion of the situation 
or treatment appears in the imprisoned feet and the 
struggling arms ; and thus from the contrast of strug- 
gle and flight, of action and suff'ering, of energy and 
failing strength, results an harmonious action that 
would perhaps be impossible under other conditions. 
We are lost in astonishment at the sagacity of the 
artist ; if we try to place the bite in some different po- 
sition the whole action is changed, and we find it im- 
possible to conceive one more fitting. This, therefore, 
is an important maxim: the artist has represented a 
sensuous eff'ort, he shows us also its sensuous cause. I 
repeat, the situation of the bite renders necessary the 
present action of the limbs. The movement of the lower 
part of the figure, as if to fly, the drawing in of the ab- 
domen, the downward action of the shoulders and the 
head, the breast forced out, nay, the expression of each 
feature of the face, all are determined by this instant, 
sharp, unlooked-for irritation. 

Far be it from me to destroy the unity of human 
nature, to deny the s^mipathetic action of the spiritual 
powers of this nobly complete man, to misconceive the 

Upon The Laocoon 

actJDn and suffering of a great nature. I see also 
anguish, fear, horror, a father's anxiety pervading these 
veins, .swelling this breast, furrowing this brow\ I 
freely admit that the highest state of mental as well 
as bodily anguish is here represented; only let us not 
transfer the effect the work produces on us too vividly 
to the piece itself; and above all, let us not be looking 
for the effect of poison in a body which the serpent's 
fang has but just reached. Let us not fancy we see 
a death-struggle in a noble, resisting, vigorous, but 
slightly wounded frame. Here let me have leave to 
make an observation of importance in art: The maxi- 
mum expression of pathos that can be given by art 
hovers in the transition from one state or condition to 
another. You see a lively child running with all the 
energy and joy of life, bounding, and full of delight; 
he is unexpectedly struck somewhat roughly by a play- 
mate, or is otherwise morally or physically hurt. This 
new sensation thrills like an electric shock through all 
his limbs, and this transition is full of pathos in the 
highest meaning ; it is a contrast of which one can form 
no idea without having seen it. In this case plainly the 
spiritual as well as the physical man is in action. If 
during the transition there still remain evident traces 
of the previous state, the result is the noblest subject 
for plastic art, as is the case in the Laocoon where 
action and suffering are shown in the same instant. 
Thus, for instance, Eurydice, bitten in the heel by the 
snake she has trodden on, as she goes joyfully through 
the meadow with the flowers she has collected, would 
make a statue of great pathos, if the twofold state, 
the joyful advance and its painful arrest, might be 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

expressed not only by the flowers that she lets fall, but 
by the direction of her limbs and the doubtful fluttering 
of her dress. 

Having now a clear conception, in this respect, of 
the main figure, we shall be enabled to give a free and 
secure glance over the relations, contrasts, and grada- 
tions of the collective parts of the whole. 

The choice of subject is one of the happiest that can 
be imagined, — men struggling with dangerous animals, 
and animals that do not act as a mass of concentrated 
force, but with divided powers ; that do not rush in at 
one side, nor oifer a combined resistance, but capable 
by their prolonged organization of paralyzing without 
injuring them, three men, or more or less. From the 
action of this numbing force results, consistently with 
the most violent action, a pervading unity and repose 
throughout the whole. The different action of the ser- 
pents is exhibited in gradation. The one is simply 
twined around its victims, the other becomes irritated 
and bites its antagonist. The three figures are in like 
manner most wisely selected: a strong, well-developed 
man, but evidently past the age of greatest energy, 
and therefore less able to endure pain and suffering. 
Substitute in his place a robust young man and the 
charm of the group vanishes. Joined with him in his 
suffering are two boys, small in proportion to his 
figure; again still two natures susceptible of pain. 

The struggles of the youngest are powerless ; he is 
frightened, but not injured. The father struggles pow- 
erfully, but ineffectually ; his efforts have rather the 
effect to exasperate the opposed force. His opponent, 
becoming irritated, wounds him. Tlic eldest son is 
least encumbered. He suffers neither anguish nor 

Upon The Laocoon 

pain; he is frightened by the sudden wounding of his 
father, and his movement thereupon ; he cries out, at the 
same moment endeavoring to free his foot from the ser- 
pent's fold. Here then is spectator, witness, and ac- 
cessory to the fact; and thus the work is completed. 
Let me here repeat what I alluded to above, — that all 
three figures exhibit a twofold action, and thus are oc- 
cupied in most manifold ways. Tlie youngest son 
strives to free himself by raising his right arm, and 
with his left hand keeps back the serpent's head; he is 
striving to alleviate the present, and avert the greater, 
evil, — the highest degree of action he can attain in his 
present imprisoned condition. The father is striving tO' 
shake off the serpents, while his body recoils from the 
immediate bite. The oldest son is terrified by his 
father's starting, and seeks at the same time to free 
himself from the lightly entwining serpent. 

The choice of the highest moment of expression has 
already been spoken of as a great advantage possessed 
by this work of art; let us now consider this problem 
in greater detail. 

We assumed the case of natural serpents twining 
about a father sleeping by his sons, so that in consider- 
ing the separate moments, we might be led to a climax 
of interest. The first moments of the serpents' winding 
about them in sleep are portentous, but not significant 
for art. We might perhaps imagine an infant Hercules 
asleep, with a serpent twined about him; but in this 
case the form in repose would show us what we were to 
expect when he waked. 

Let us now proceed and figure to ourselves a father 
with his children, when first — let it have happened how 
it may — he discovers the serpents wound about him. 


Goethe's Literar^y Essays 

There is only one moment of the highest interest,^ — 
when one of the figures is made defenseless by the pres- 
sure, the second can still fight, but is wounded, the third 
still retains a hope of escape. In the first condition is 
the younger son ; in the second, the father ; in the third, 
the eldest son. Seek now to find another, a fourth con- 
dition! Try to change the order of the dramatis 'per- 

If we now consider the treatment from the begin- 
ning, we must acknowledge that it has reached the high- 
est point; and in like manner, if we reliect upon the 
succeeding moments, we shall perceive that the whole 
group must necessarily be changed, and that no mo- 
ment can be found equal to this in artistic significance. 
The youngest son will either be suffocated by the en- 
twining serpent, or should he in his helpless condi- 
tion exasperate it, he must be bitten. Neither alterna- 
tive could we endure, since they suppose an extremity 
unsuitable for representation. As to the father, he 
would either be bitten by the serpent in other places, 
whereby the position of the body would be entirely 
changed and the previous wounds would either be lost 
to the beholder or, if made evident, would be loath- 
some, or the serpent might turn about and assail the 
eldest son, whose attention would then be turned to 
himself, — the scene loses its participator, the last 
glimpse of hope disappears from the group, the situa- 
tion is no longer tragical, it is fearful. The figure 
of the father, which is now self-centred in its great- 
ness and its suffering, would in that case be turned 
towards the son and become a sympathizing subordi- 

Upon The Laocoon 

Man has, for his own and others' sufferings, only 
three sorts of sensations, apprehension, terror, and 
compa&sion, — the anxious foreseeing of an approaching 
evil, the unexpected realization of present pain, and 
sympathy with existing or past suffering ; all three are 
excited by and exhibited in the present work, and in 
the most fitting gradations. 

Plastic art, laboring always for a single point of 
time, in choosing a subject expressive of pathos will 
seize one that awakens terror; while Poetry prefers 
such as excite apprehension and compassion. In the 
group of Laocoon the suffering of the father awak- 
ens terror, and that in the highest degree. Sculpture 
has done her utmost for him, but, partly to run through 
the circle of human sensations, partly to soften the 
effect of so much of the terrible, it excites pity for 
the younger son, and apprehension for the elder, 
through the hope that still exists for him. Thus, by 
means of variety, the artists have introduced a certain 
balance into their work, have softened and height- 
ened effect by other effects, and completed at once a 
spiritual and sensuous whole. 

In a word, we dare boldly affirm that this work 
exhausts its subject and happily fulfils all the condi- 
tions of art. It teaches us that if the master can in- 
fuse his feeling of beauty into tranquil and simple sub- 
jects, this feeling can also be exhibited in its highest 
energy and dignity when it manifests itself in the crea- 
tion of varied characters, and knows how, by artistic 
imitation, to temper and control the passionate out- 
break of human feeling. We shall give in the sequel 
a full account of the statues known by the name of the 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

family of Niobe, as well as the group of the Farnesian 
Bull ; these are among the few representations of pathos 
that remain to us of antique sculpture. 

It has been the usual fate of the moderns to blunder 
in their choice of subjects of this sort. When Milo, 
with both his hands fast in the cleft of a tree, is at- 
tacked by a lion, art in vain endeavors to create a 
work that will excite a sincere sympathy. A twofold 
suffering, a fruitless struggle, a helpless state, a certain 
defeat can only excite horror, if they do not leave us 

Finally, a word concerning this subject in its con- 
nection with poetry. 

It is doing Virgil and poetic art a great injustice to 
compare even for a moment this most succinct achieve- 
ment of Sculpture with the episodical treatment of 
the subject in the zEneid. Since the unhappy exile, 
^neas, is to recount how he and his fellow-citizens were 
guilty of the unpardonable folly of bringing the famous 
horse into their city, the Poet must hit upon some way 
to provide a motive for this action. Everything is 
subordinated to this end, and the story of Laocoon 
stands here as a rhetorical argument to justify an 
exaggeration if only it serves its purpose. Two mon- 
strous serpents come out of the sea with crested heads ; 
they rush upon the children of the priest who had in- 
jured the horse, encircle them, bite them, besmear them, 
twist and twine about the breast and head of the father 
as he hastens to their assistance, and hold up their heads 
in triumph while the victim, inclosed in their folds, 
screams in vain for help. The people are horror-struck 
and fly at once ; no one dares to be a patriot any longer ; 
and the hearer, satiated with the horror of the strange 

Upon The Laocoon 

and loathsome story, is willing to let the horse be 
brought into the city. 

Thus, in Virgil, the story of Laocoon serves only as 
a step to a higher aim, and it is a great question whether 
the occurrence be in itself a poetic subject. 




Yesterday a stranger made his appearance, whose 
name I was already familiar with, and who has the 
reputation of a skilful connoisseur/ I was pleased to 
see him, made him acquainted generally with my posses- 
sessions, let him choose what he would from what I ex- 
hibited to him. I soon noticed his cultivated eye for 
works of art, and especially for their history. He knew 
the masters as well as the scholars ; in cases of doubt- 
ful works he was familiar with the grounds of un- 
certainty, and his conversation was highly interesting 
to me. 

Perhaps I should have been hurried on to open my- 
self in a more lively manner towards him, had not my 
resolve to sound my guest made me from the first take 
a more quiet tone. His judgment in many cases agreed 
with mine; in many I was forced to admire his sharp 
and practised eye. The first thing that struck me was 
his unmitigated hatred of all Mannerists. I was in 
pain for some of my favorite pictures, and was curious 
to discover from what source such a dislike could 
spring. . . . 

Before we were all assembled I seized an opportunity 

to lend a helping hand to my poor mannerists against 

the stranger. I spoke of their beautiful nature, their 

1 Alois Hirt, protagonist of the theory of the " characteristic." 


The Collector and His Friends 

happy handling, their grace, and added, to keep 
myself safe: Thus much I say only to claim for them 
a certain degree of forbearance, though I admit that 
that high beauty, which is the highest end and aim of 
Art, is in fact quite a different thing. 

He replied — with a smile that did not altogether 
please me, inasmuch as it seemed to express a special 
self-satisfaction and a sort of compassion for me: — 
Are you then stanch in the old-fashioned principle that 
Beauty is the last aim of art? 

I answered that I was not aware of any higher. 
Can you tell me what Beauty is? he exclaimed. 
Perhaps not, I replied; but I can show it to you. 
Let us go and see, even by candlelight, a fine cast of 
Apollo or a beautiful marble bust of Bacchus that I 
possess, and try if we cannot agree that they are beau- 

Before we go upon this quest, said he, it would be 
necessary for us to examine more closely this word 
Beauty and its derivation. Beauty (Schonheit) comes 
from show (JScliein) ; it is an appearance, and not 
worthy to be the object of art. The perfectly char- 
acteristic only deserves to be called beauty; without 
Character there is no Beauty. 

Surprised by this mode of expression, I replied: 
Granted, though it be not proved, that beauty must be 
characteristic ; yet from this it only follows that char- 
acter lies at the root of beauty, but by no means tliat 
Beauty and Character are the same. Character holds 
to the beautiful the same relation that the skeleton does 
to the living man. No one will deny that the osseous 
system is the foundation of all highly organized forms. 
It consolidates and defines the form, but is not the 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

form itself; still less does it bring about that last 
appearance which, as the veil and integument of an 
organized whole, we call Beauty. 

I cannot embark in similitudes, said my guest, and 
from your own words, moreover, it is evident that 
beauty is something incomprehensible, or the effect 
of something incomprehensible. What cannot be com- 
prehended is naught ; what we cannot make clear by 
words is nonsense. 

/. — Can you then clearly express in words the effect 
that a colored body produces on your eyes? 

He. — That is again a metaphor that I will not be 
drawn into. It is enough that character can be indi- 
cated. You find no beauty without it, else it would 
be empty and insignificant. All the beauty of the 
Ancients is only Character, and only out of this qual- 
ity is beauty developed. 

Our Philosopher ^ had arrived meanwhile and was 
conversing with my nieces, when, hearing us speak ear- 
nestly, he stepped forward ; and the stranger, stimu- 
lated by the accession of a new hearer, proceeded: 

That is just the misfortune when good heads, when 
people of merit, get hold of such false principles, which 
have only an appearance of truth, and spread them 
wider and wider. None appropriate them so willingly 
as those who know and understand nothing of the sub- 
ject. Thus has Lessing fastened upon us the princi- 
ple that the ancients cultivated only the beautiful; 
thus has Winckelmann put us to sleep with his " noble 
simplicity andiserene greatness " ; whereas the art of the 
ancients appears in all imaginable forms. But these 
gentlemen tarry by Jupiter and Juno, Genii and Graces, 
1 Schiller. 


The Collector and His Friends 

and hide the ignoble forms and skulls of Barbarians, 
the rough hair, foul beard, gaunt bones, and wrinkled 
skin of jdeformed age, the protruding veins and hang- 
ing breasts. 

In the name of God, I exclaimed, are there then in- 
dependent, self-existing works of the best age of An- 
cient Art that exhibit such frightful objects? Or are 
they not rather subordinate works, occasional pieces, 
creations of an art that must demean itself according 
to outward circumstances, an art on the decline? 

He. — I give you the specification, you can yourself 
search and judge. But you will not deny that the 
Laocoon, that Niobe, that Dirce with her stepsons, are 
self-subsistent works of art. Stand before the Laocoon 
and contemplate nature in full revolt and desperation. 
The last choking pang, the desperate struggle, the 
maddening convulsion, the working of the corroding 
poison, the vehement fermenting, the stagnating circu- 
lation, suffocating pressure, and paralytic death. 

The Philosopher seemed to look at me with aston- 
ishment, and I answered: We shudder, we are horrified 
at the bare description. In sooth, if it be so with the 
group of Laocoon, what are we to say of the pleasure 
we find in this as in every other true work of art? But 
I will not meddle in the question. You must settle it 
with the authors of the Propylaea, who are of just 
the opposite mind. 

It must be admitted, said my guest, that all An- 
tiquity speaks for me ; for where do horror and death 
rage more hideously than in the representation of the 
Niobe ? 

I was confounded by this assertion, for only a short 
time before I had been looking at the copper-plates 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

in Fabroni, which I immediately brought forward and 
opened. I find no trace in the statues of raging hor- 
ror and death, but rather the greatest subordination 
of tragical situation under the highest ideas of dig- 
nity, nobleness, beauty, and simplicity. I trace every- 
where the artistic purpose to dispose the limbs agree- 
ably and gracefully. The character is expressed only 
in the most general lines, which run through the work 
like a sort of ideal skeleton. 

He. — Let us turn to the bas-reliefs, which we shall 
find at the end of the book. 

We turned to them. 

/. — Of anything horrible, to speak truly, I see no 
trace here either. Where is this rage of horror and 
death? I see figures so artfully interwoven, so hap- 
pily placed against or extended upon each other, that 
while they remind me of a mournful destiny, they give 
room at the same time for the most charming imagi- 
nations. All that is characteristic is tempered, the 
violent is elevated, and I might say that Character 
lies at the foundation ; upon it rest simplicity and 
dignity; the highest aim of art is beauty and its last 
effect the feeling of pleasure. The agreeable, which 
may not be immediately united with the characteristic, 
comes remarkably before our eyes in these sarcophagi. 
Are not the dead sons and daughters of Niobe here 
made use of as ornaments? This is the highest luxury 
of art ; she adorns no longer with flowers and fruits, 
but with the corpses of men, with the greatest mis- 
fortune that can befall a father or mother, to see a 
blooming family all at once snatched away. Yes, the 
beauteous genius who stands beside the grave, his torch 
reversed, has stood beside the artist as he invented 

The Collector and His Friends 

and perfected, and over his earthly greatness has 
breathed a heavenly grace. 

M}" guest looked at me with a smile, and shrugged 
his shoulders. Alas, — said he, as I concluded, — alas, I 
see plainly that we can never agree. What a pity that 
a man of your acquirements, of your sense, will not 
perceive that these are all empty words ; that to a man 
of understanding Beauty and Ideal must always be a 
dream which he cannot translate into reality, but finds 
to be in direct opposition to it. . . . 

/. — Will you allow me also to put in a word? 

The guest (somewhat scornfully.) — With all my 
heart, and I hope nothing about mere phantoms. 

I. — I have some acquaintance with the poetry of the 
ancients, but have little knowledge of the plastic 

Guest. — That I regret ; for in that case we can hardly 
come to an understanding. 

I. — And yet the fine arts are nearly related, and 
the friends of the separate arts should not misunder- 
stand each other. 

Uncle. — Let us hear what you have to say. 

I. — The old tragic writers dealt with the stuff in 
which they worked in the same way as the plastic 
artists, unless these engravings, representing the family 
of Niobe, give an altogether false impression of the 

Guest. — They are passably good. They convey an 
imperfect but not a false impression. 

/. — ^Well, then, to that extent we can take them for a 
ground to go upon. 

Uncle. — What is it you assert of the treatment of 
the ancient tragic writers.^ 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

/. — The subjects they chose, especially in the early 
times, were often of an unbearable f rightfulness. 

Guest. — Were the ancient fables insupportably 

/. — Undoubtedly; in the same manner as your ac- 
count of the Laocoon. 

Guest. — Did you find that also unbearable ? 

/. — I ask pardon. I meant the thing you describe, 
not your description. 

Guest. — And the work itself also? 

/. — By no means the work itself, but that which you 
have seen in it, — the fable, the history, the skeleton, — 
that which you name the characteristic. For if the 
Laocoon really stood before our eyes such as you 
have described it, we ought not to hesitate a moment 
to dash it to pieces. 

Guest. — You use strong expressions. 

I. — One may do that as well as another. 

Uncle. — Now then for the ancient tragedies. 

Guest. — Yes, these insupportable subjects. 

1. — Very good; but also this manner of treatment 
that makes everything endurable, beautiful, graceful. 

Guest. — And that is effected by means of " simplic- 
ity and serene greatness ? " 

I. — So it appears. 

Guest. — By the softening principle of Beauty? 

I. — It can be nothing else. 

Guest. — And the old tragedies were after all not 
frightful ? 

/. — Hardly, so far as my knowledge extends, if you 
listen to the poets themselves. In fact, if we regard 
in poetry only the material which lies at the founda- 
tion, if we are to speak of works of art as if in their 

The Collector and His Friends 

2:)lace we had seen the actual circumstances, then even 
the tragedies of Sophocles can be described as loath- 
some and horrible. 

Guest. — I will not pass judgment on poetry. 

I. — Nor I on plastic art. 

Guest. — Yes, it is best for each to stick to his own 

/. — And yet there is a common point of union for 
all the arts wherefrom the laws of all proceed. 

Guest. — And that is — 

/. — The soul of man. 

Guest. — Ay, ay; that is just the way with you gen- 
tlemen of the new school of philosophy. You bring 
everything upon your own ground and province ; and, 
in fact, it is more convenient to shape the world ac- 
cording to 3^our ideas than to adapt your notions to 
the truth of things. 

I. — Here is no question of any metaphysical dis- 

Guest. — If there were I should certainly decline it. 

7. — I shall admit for the sake of argument that Na- 
ture can be imagined as absolutely apart from man, 
bv;t with him art necessarily concerns itself, for art 
exists only through man and for man. 

Guest. — ^Where does all this tend.'* 

7. — You yourself, when you make Character the end 
of art, appoint the understanding, which takes cog- 
nizance of tlie characteristic, as the judge. 

Guest. — To be sure I do. What I cannot seize with 
my understanding does not exist for me. 

7. — Yet man is not only a being of thought, but 
also of feeling. He is a whole; a union of various, 
closely connected powers ; and to this whole of man 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

the work of art is to address itself. It must speak to 
this rich unity, this simple variety in him. 

Guest. — Don't carry me with you into these laby- 
rinths, for who could ever help us out again? 

/. — It will then be best for us to give up the dispute 
and each retain his position. 

Guest, — I shall at least hold fast to mine. 

7. — Perhaps a means may still be found whereby, if 
one does not take the other's position, he can at least 
observe him in it. 

Guest. — Propose it then. 

I. — We will for a moment contemplate art in its 

Guest. — Good. 

7. — Let us accompany the work of art on its road 
to perfection. 

Guest. — But only by the way of experience, if you 
expect me to follow. I will have nothing to do with 
the steep paths of speculation. 

7. — You allow me to begin at the beginning.? 

Guest. — With all my heart. 

7. — A man feels an inclination for some object; let us 
suppose a single living being. 

Guest. — As, for instance, this pretty lap-dog. 

Julia. — Come, Bello ! It is no small honor to serve 
as example in such a discussion. 

7. — Truly, the dog is pretty enough, and if the man 
we are speaking of had the gift of imitation, he would 
try in some way to make a likeness of it. But let him 
prosper never so well in his imitation, we are still not 
advanced, for we have at best only two Bellos instead 
of one. 


The Collector and His Friends 

Guest. — I will not interrupt, but wait and see what 
is to become of this. 

/.-^Suppose that this man, to whom for the sake of 
his talent we will give the name of Artist, has by no 
means satisfied himself as yet ; that his desire seems 
to him too narrow, too limited; that he busies himself 
about more individuals, varieties, kinds, species, in such 
wise that at last not the creature itself, but the Idea 
of the creature stands before him, and he is able to 
express this by means of his art. 

Guest. — Bravo ! That is just my man, and his work 
must be characteristic. 

7. — No doubt. 

Guest. — And there I would stop and go no farther. 

I. — But we go beyond this. 

Guest. — I stop here. 

Uncle. — I will go along for the sake of experiment. 

I. — By this operation we may arrive at a canon use- 
ful indeed, and scientifically valuable, but not satisfac- 
tory to the soul of man. 

Guest. — How then are you going to satisfy the fan- 
tastic demands of this dear soul? 

/. — Not fantastic ; it is only not satisfied in its just 
claims. An old tradition informs us that the Elohira 
once took counsel together, saying, let us make man 
after our own image ; and man says therefore, with 
good cause, let us make gods and they shall be in our 

Guest. — ^We are getting into a dark region. 

7. — There is only one light that can aid us here. 

Guest. — And that is.^ 

7. — Reason. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Gtiest, — How far it be a guide or a will-o'-wisp is 
hard to say. 

I. — We need not give it a name ; but let us ask our- 
selves what are the demands the soul makes of a work 
of art. It is not enough that it fulfils a limited de- 
sire, that it satisfies our curiosity, or gives order and 
stability to our knowledge; that which is Higher in us 
must be awakened; we must be inspired with reverence, 
and feel ourselves worthy of reverence. 

Guest. — I begin to be at a loss to comprehend you. 

Uncle. — But I think I am able to follow in some meas- 
ure ; — ^how far, I shall try to make clear by an example. 
We will suppose our artist had made an eagle in bronze 
which perfectly expressed the idea of the species, but 
now he would place him on the sceptre of Jupiter. Do 
you think it would be perfectly suitable there? 

Guest. — It would depend. 

Uncle. — I say, No 1 The artist must first impart to 
him something beyond all this. 

Guest.— Whsit then? 

Uncle. — It is hard to express. 

Guest. — So I should think. 

/. — And yet something may be done by approxima- 

Guest. — To it then. 

/. — He must give to the eagle what he gave to Jupi- 
ter, in order to make him into a God. 

Guest. — And this is — 

/. — The Godlike, — which in truth we should never 
become acquainted with, did not man feel and himself 
reproduce it. 

Guest. — I continue to hold my ground, and let you 
ascend into the clouds. I see that you mean to indl- 

The Collector and His Friends 

cate the high style of the Greeks, which I prize only 
so far as it is characteristic. 

/. — It is something more to us, however; it answers 
to a high demand, but still not the highest. 

Guest. — You seem to be very hard to satisfy. 

/. — It beseems him to demand much for whom much 
is in store. Let me be brief. The human soul is in an 
exalted position when it reverences, when it adores ; 
when it elevates an object and is elevated by it again. 
But it cannot remain long in this state. The general 
concept of genus leaves it cold ; the Ideal raises it 
above itself; but now it must return again into it- 
self; and it would gladly enjoy once more that affec- 
tion which it then felt for the Individual, without com- 
ing back to the same limited view, and will not forego 
the significant, the spirit-moving. What would become 
of it now, if Beauty did not step in and happily solve 
the riddle? She first gives life and warmth to the 
Scientific, and breathing her softening influence and 
heavenly charm over even the Significant and the High, 
brings it back to us again. A beautiful work of art 
has gone through the entire circle; it becomes again 
an Individual that we can embrace with affection, that 
we can make our own. 

Guest. — Have you done? 

/. — For the present. The little circle is completed; 
we have come back to our starting point ; the soul has 
made its demands, and those demands have been sat- 
isfied. I have nothing further to add. (Here our good 
uncle was peremptorily called away to a patient.) 

Guest. — It is the custom of you philosophic gentle- 
men to engage in battle behind high-sounding words, as 
if it were an aegis. 

Goethe's Literary Essays 

1. — I can assure you that I have not now been speak- 
ing as a philosopher. These are mere matters of ex- 

Guest. — Do you call that experience, whereof an- 
other can comprehend nothing? 

I. — To every experience belongs an organ. 

Guest. — Do you mean a separate one? 

7. — Not a separate one ; but it must have one pecu- 

Guest. — And what is that? 

/.^It must be able to produce. 

Guest. — Produce what? 

/. — The experience ! There is no experience which 
is not brought forth, produced, created. 

Guest. — This is too much ! 

7. — This is particularly the case with artists. 

Guest. — Indeed! How enviable would the portrait 
painter be, what custom would he not have, if he could 
reproduce all his customers without troubling people 
with so many* sittings ! 

7. — I am not deterred by your instance, but rather 
am convinced no portrait can be worth anything that 
the painter does not in the strictest sense create. 

Guest (springing up). — This is maddening! I would 
you were making game of me, and all this were only in 
jest. How happy I should be to have the riddle ex- 
plained in that manner! How gladly would I give my 
hand to a worthy man like you ! 

7. — Unfortunately, I am quite in earnest, and can- 
not come to any other conclusion. 

Guest. — Now I did hope that in parting we should 
take each other's hand, especially since our good host 
has departed, who would have held the place of me- 

The Collector and His Friends 

diator in your dispute. Farewell, Mademoiselle ! Fare- 
well, Sir! I shall inquire to-morrow whether I may 
wait on- you again. 

So he stormed out of the door, and Julia had scarce 
time to send the maid, who was ready with the lantern, 
after him. I remained alone with the sweet child, for 
Caroline had disappeared some time before, — I think 
about the time that my opponent had declared that 
mere beauty, without character, must be insipid. 

You went too far, jny friend, said Julia, after a short 
pause. If he did not seem to me altogether in the 
right, neither can I give unquahfied assent to you; 
for your last assertion was only made to tease him. 
The portrait painter must make the likeness a pure 

Fair Julia, I replied, how much I could wish to make 
myself clear to you upon this point. Perhaps in time 
I shall succeed. But you, whose lively spirit is at home 
in all regions, who not only prize the artist but in some 
sense anticipate him, and who know how to give form to 
what your eyes have never seen, as if it stood bodily 
before you, you should be the last to start when the 
question is of creation, of production. 

Jidia. — I see it is your intention to bribe me. That 
will not be hard, for I like to listen to you. 

/. — Let us think well of man, and not trouble our- 
selves if what we say of him may sound a little bizarre. 
Everybody admits that the poet must be born. Does 
not every one ascribe to genius a creative power, and 
no one thinks he is repeating a paradox? We do not 
deny it to works of fancy; but the inactive, the worth- 
less man will not become aware of the good, the noble, 
the beautiful, either in himself or others. Whence came 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

it, if it did not spring from ourselves? Ask your own 
heart. Is not the method of intercourse born with in- 
tercourse? Is it not the capacity for good deeds that 
rejoices over the good deed? Who ever feels keenly 
without the wish to express that feeling? and what do 
we express but what we create? and in truth, not once 
only, that it may exist and there end, but that it may 
operate, ever increase, and again come to life, and again 
create. This is the godlike power of love, of the 
singing and speaking of which there is no end, that it 
reproduces at every moment the noble qualities of the 
beloved object, perfects it in the least particulars, em- 
braces it in the whole, rests not by day, sleeps not by 
night, is enchanted with its own work, is astonished 
at its own restless activity, ever finds the familiar new, 
because at every moment it is re-created in the sweetest 
of all occupations. Yes, the picture of the beloved can- 
not grow old, for every moment is the moment of its 

The maid returned from lighting the stranger. She 
was highly satisfied with his liberality, for he had given 
her a handsome pourboire; but she praised his polite- 
ness still more highly, for he had dismissed her with 
a friendly word, and, moreover, called her " Pretty 

I was not in a humor to spare him, and exclaimed: 
" Oh, yes ! I can easily credit that one who denies the 
ideal should take the common for the beautiful." 



A Dialogue 


In a certain German theatre there was represented a 
sort of oval amphitheatrical structure, with boxes filled 
with painted spectators, seemingly occupied with what 
was being transacted below. Many of the real specta- 
tors in the pit and boxes were dissatisfied with this, and 
took it amiss that anything so untrue and improbable 
was put upon them. Whereupon the conversation took 
place of which we here give the general purport. 

The Agent of the Artist. — Let us see if we cannot 
by some means agree more nearly. 

The Spectator. — I do not see how such a representa- 
tion can be defended. 

Agent. — Tell me, when you go into a theatre, do you 
not expect all you see to be true and real? 

Spectator. — By no means! I only ask that what I 
see shall appear true and real. 

Agent. — Pardon me if I contradict even your inmost 
conviction and maintain this is by no means the thing 
you demand. 

Spectator. — That Is singular! If I did not re- 
quire this, why should the scene painter take so 
much pains to draw each line in the most perfect 
manner, according to the rules of perspective, and rep- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

resent every object according to its own peculiar per- 
fection? Why waste so much study on the costume? 
Why spend so much to insure its truth, so that I may 
be carried back into those times? Why is that player 
most highly praised who most truly expresses the senti- 
ment, who in speech, gesture, delivery, comes nearest the 
truth, who persuades me that I behold not an imitation, 
but the thing itself? 

Agent. — You express your feelings admirably well, 
but it is harder than you may think to have a right 
comprehension of our feelings. What would you say 
if I reply that theatrical representations by no means 
seem really true to you, but rather to have only an ap- 
pearance of truth? 

Spectator. — I should say that you have advanced a 
subtlety that is little more than a play upon words. 

Agent. — ^And I maintain that when we are speaking 
of the operations of the soul, no words can be delicate 
and subtle enough; and that this sort of play upon 
words indicates a need of the soul, which, not being 
able adequately to express what passes within us, seeks 
to work by way of antithesis, to give an answer to each 
side of the question, and thus, as it were, to find the mean 
between them. 

Spectator. — Very good. Only explain yourself more 
fully, and, if you will oblige me, by examples. 

Agent. — I shall be glad to avail myself of them. 
For instance, when you are at an opera, do you not 
experience a lively and complete satisfaction? 

Spectator. — Yes, when everything is in harmony, one 
of the most complete I know. 

Agent. — But when the good people there meet and 
compliment each other with a song, sing from billets 

On Truth and Prohability in Works of Art 

that they hold in their hands, sing you their love, their 
hatred, and all their passions, fight singing, and die 
singing, -can you say that the whole representation, or 
even any part of it, is true? or, I may say, has even 
an appearance of truth? 

Spectator. — In fact, when I consider, I could not 
say it had. None of these things seems true. 

Agent. — And yet you are completely pleased and 
satisfied with the exhibition? 

Spectator. — Beyond question. I still remember how 
the opera used to be ridiculed on account of this gross 
improbability, and how I always received the greatest 
satisfaction from it, in spite of this, and find more and 
more pleasure the richer and more complete it becomes. 

Agent. — And you do not then at the opera experi- 
ence a complete deception? 

Spectator. — Deception, that is not the proper word, 
— and yet, 3^es ! — But no — 

Agent. — Here you are in a complete contradiction, 
which is far worse than a quibble. 

Spectator, — Let us proceed quietly; we shall soon 
see light. 

Agent. — As soon as we come into the light, we shall 
agree. Having reached this point, will you allow me 
to ask you some questions? 

Spectator. — It is your duty, having questioned me 
into this dilemma, to question me out again. 

Agent. — The feeling you have at the exhibition of 
an opera cannot be rightly called deception? 

Spectator. — I agree. Still it is a sort of deception ; 
something nearly allied to it. 

Agent. — Tell me, do you not almost forget your- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Spectator. — Not almost, but quite, when the whole 
or some part is excellent. 

Agent. — You are enchanted? 

Spectator. — It has happened more than once. 

Agent, — Can you explain under what circumstances? 

Spectator. — Under so many, it would be hard to 

Agent. — Yet you have already told when it is most 
apt to happen, namely, when all is in harmony. 

Spectator. — Undoubtedly. 

Agent. — Did this complete representation harmonize 
with itself or some other natural product? 

Spectator. — With itself, certainly. 

Agent. — And this harmony was a work of art? 

Spectator. — It must have been. 

Agent. — We have denied to the opera the possession 
of a certain sort of truth. We have maintained that 
it is by no means faithful to what it professes to rep- 
resent. But can we deny to it a certain interior 
truth, which arises from its completeness as a work of 

Spectator. — ^When the opera is good, it creates a 
little world of its own, in which all proceeds according 
to fixed laws, which must be judged by its own laws, 
felt according to its own spirit. 

Agent. — Does it not follow from this, that truth of 
nature and truth of art are two distinct things, and 
that the artist neither should nor may endeavor to give 
his work the air of a work of nature? 

Spectator. — But yet it has so often the air of a work 
of nature. 

Agent. — That I cannot deny. But may I on the 
other hand be equally frank? 

On Truth and' Probability in Works of Art 

Spectator. — Why not? our business is not now with 

Agent. — I will then venture to affirm, that a work 
of art can seem to be a work of nature only to a wholly 
uncultivated spectator; such a one the artist appre- 
ciates and values indeed, though he stands on the low- 
est step. But, unfortunately, he can only be satisfied 
when the artist descends to his level; he will never rise 
with him, when, prompted by his genius, the true artist 
must take wing in order to complete the whole circle 
of his work. 

Spectator. — Your remark is curious ; but proceed. 

Agent. — You would not let it pass unless you had 
yourself attained a higher step. 

Spectator. — Let me now make trial, and take the 
place of questioner, in order to arrange and advance 
our subject. 

Agent. — I shall like that better still. 

Spectator. — You say that a work of art could ap- 
pear as a work of nature only to an uncultivated per- 

Agent. — Certainly. You remember the birds that 
tried to eat the painted cherries of the great master? 

Spectator. — Now does not that show that the 
cherries were admirably painted? 

Agent. — By no means. It rather convinces me that 
these connoisseurs were true sparrows. 

Spectator. — I cannot, however, for this reason con- 
cede that this work could have been other than excel- 

Agent. — Shall I tell you a more modern story? 

Spectator. — I would rather listen to stories than 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Agent. — A certain great naturalist, among other 
domesticated animals, possessed an ape, which he missed 
one day, and found after a long search in the library. 
There sat the beast on the ground, with the plates of 
an unbound work of Natural History scattered about 
him. Astonished at this zealous fit of study on the part 
of his familiar, the gentleman approached, and found, 
to his wonder and vexation, that the dainty ape had 
been making his dinner of the beetles that were pic- 
tured in various places. 

Spectator. — It is a droll story. 

Agent. — And seasonable, I hope. You would not 
compare these colored copperplates with the work of 
so great an artist.? 

Spectator. — No, indeed. 

Agent. — But you would reckon the ape among xhe 
uncultivated amateurs ? 

Spectator. — Yes, and among the greedy ones ! You 
awaken in me a singular idea. Does not the unculti- 
vated amateur, just in the same way, desire a work 
to be natural, that he may be able to enjoy it in a 
natural, which is often a vulgar and common way? 

Agent. — I am entirely of that opinion. 

Spectator. — And you maintain, therefore, that an 
artist lowers himself when he tries to produce this 

Agent. — Such is my firm conviction. 

Spectator. — But here again I feel a contradiction. 
You did me just now the honor to number me, at least, 
among the half-cultivated spectators. 

Agent, — Among those who are on the way to become 
true connoisseurs. 

On Truth and Probability in Works of Art 

'Spectator. — Then explain to me, Why does a per- 
fect work of art appear like a work of nature to me 

Agent. — ^Because it harmonizes with your better 
nature. Because it is above natural, yet not un- 
natural. A perfect work of art is a work of the hu- 
man soul, and in this sense, also, a work of nature. 
But because it collects together the scattered objects, 
of which it displays even the most minute in all their 
significance and value, it is above nature. It is compre- 
hensible only by a mind that is harmoniously formed 
and developed, and such an one discovers that what is 
perfect and complete in itself is also in harmony with 
himself. The common spectator, on the contrary, has 
no idea of it ; he treats a work of art as he would any 
object he meets with in the market. But the true con- 
noisseur sees not only the truth of the imitation, but 
also the excellence of the selection, the refinement of 
the composition, the superiority of the little world of 
art ; he feels that he must rise to the level of the artist, 
in order to enjoy his work; he feels that he must col- 
lect himself out of his scattered life, must live with 
the work of art, see it again and again, and through it 
receive a higher existence. 

Spectator. — Well said, my friend, I have often 
made similar reflections upon pictures, the drama, and 
other species of poetry, and had an instinct of those 
things you require. I will in future give more heed 
both to myself and to works of art. But if I am not 
mistaken, we have left the subject of our dispute quite 
behind. You wished to persuade me that the painted 
spectators at our opera are admissible, and I do not 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

yet see, though we have come to an agreement, by what 
arguments you mean to support this license, and under 
what rubric I am to admit these painted lookers-on. 

Agent. — Fortunately, the opera is repeated to-night ; 
I trust you will not miss it. 

Spectator. — On no account. 

Agent. — And the painted men.? 

Spectator. — Shall not drive me away, for I think 
myself something more than a sparrow. 

Agent. — I hope that a mutual interest may soon 
bring us together again. 




It does not seem to be superfluous to Jefine dearly the 
meaning we attach to these words, which we shall often 
have occasion to make use of. For, however long we 
may have been in the habit of using them, and however 
they may seem to have been defined in theoretical works, 
still every one continues to use them in a way of his 
own, and means more or less by them, according to the 
degree of clearness or uncertainty with which he has 
seized the ideas they express. 

Simple Imitation of Nature 

If an artist, in whom we must of course suppose a 
natural talent, is in the first stage of progress, and after 
having in some measure practised eye and hand, turns to 
natural objects, uses all care and fidelity in the most 
perfect imitation of their forms and colors, never 
knowingly departs from nature, begins and ends in her 
presence every picture that he undertakes, — such an 
artist must possess high merit, for he cannot fail of 
attaining the greatest accuracy, and his work must be 
full of certainty, variety and strength. 

If these conditions are clearly considered, it will be 
easily seen that a capable but limited talent can in 
this way treat agreeable but limited subjects. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Such subjects must always be easy to find. Lei- 
surely observation and quiet imitation must be allowed 
for; the disposition that occupies itself in such works 
must be a quiet one, self-contained, and satisfied with 
moderate gratification. 

This sort of imitation will thus be practised by men 
of quiet, true, limited nature, in the representation of 
dead or still-life subjects. It does not by its nature 
exclude a high degree of perfection. 


But man finds, usually, such a mode of proceeding 
too timid and inadequate. He perceives a harmony 
among many objects, which can only be brought into 
a picture by sacrificing the individual. He gets tired 
of using Nature's letters each time to spell after her. 
He invents a way, devises a language for himself, so 
as to express in his own fashion the idea his soul has 
attained, and give to the object he has so many times 
repeated a distinctive form, without having recourse to 
nature itself each time he repeats it, or even without re- 
calling exactly the individual form. 

Thus a language is created, in which the mind of the 
speaker expresses and utters itself immediately ; and as 
in each individual who thinks, the conceptions of spir- 
itual objects are formed and arranged differently, so 
will every artist of this class see, understand, and imi- 
tate the outward world in a different manner, will seize 
its phenomena with a more or less observant eye, and 
reproduce them more accurately or loosely. 

We see that this species of imitation is applied with 
the best effect in cases where a great whole compre- 

Simple Imitation of Nature, Manner, Style 

hends many subordinate objects. These last must tje 
sacrificed in order to attain the general expression of 
the whole, as is the case in landscapes, for instance, 
where the aim would be missed if we attended toO' 
closely to the details, instead of keeping in view the 
idea of the whole. 


When at last art, by means of imitation of Nature, 
of efforts to create a common language, and of clear 
and profound study of objects themselves, has acquired 
a clearer and clearer knowledge of the peculiarities of 
objects and their mode of being, oversees the classes of 
forms, and knows how to connect and imitate those 
that are distinct and characteristic, — then will Style 
reach the highest point it is capable of, the point where 
it may be placed on a par with the highest efforts of 
the human mind. 

Simple Imitation springs from quiet existence and 
an agreeable subject; Manner seizes with facile ca- 
pacity upon an appearance ; Style rests upon the deep- 
est foundations of knowledge, upon the essence of 
things, so far as we are able to recognize it in visible 
and comprehensible forms. 

The elaboration of what we have advanced above 
would fill whole volumes ; and much is said upon the 
subject in books, but a true conception of it can only 
be arrived at by the study of nature and works of art. 
We subjoin some additional considerations, and shall 
have occasion to refer to these remarks whenever plas- 
tic art is in question. 

It is easy to see that these three several ways of 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

producing works of art are closely related, and that 
one may imperceptibly run into the others. 

The simple imitation of subjects of easy comprehen- 
sion (we shall take fruits and flowers as an example) 
may be carried to a high point of perfection. It is 
natural that he who paints roses should soon learn to 
distinguish and select the most beautiful, and seek for 
such only among the thousand that summer affords. 
Thus we have arrived at selection, although the artist 
may have formed no general idea of the beauty of 
roses. He has to do with comprehensible forms ; 
everything depends upon the manifold purpose and the 
color of the surface. The downy peach, the finely dusted 
plum, the smooth apple, the burnished cherry, the 
dazzling rose, the manifold pink, the variegated tulip, 
all these he can have at will in his quiet studio in the 
perfection of their bloom and ripeness. He can put them 
in a favorable light; his eye will become accustomed 
to the harmonious play of glittering colors ; each year 
would give him a fresh opportunity of renewing the 
same models, and he would be enabled, without labori- 
ous abstraction, by means of quiet imitative observa- 
tion, to know and seize the peculiarities of the simple 
existence of these subjects. In this way were produced 
the masterpieces of a Huysum and Rachel Ruysch, 
artists who seem almost to have accomplished the im- 
possible. It is evident that an artist of this sort must 
become greater and more characteristic, if in addition 
to his talent, he is also acquainted with botany; if he 
knows, from the root up, the influences of the several 
parts upon the expansion and growth of the plant, 
their office, and reciprocal action ; if he understands 
and reflects upon the successive development of leaves, 

Simple Imitation of Nature, Manner, Styh 

fruit, flowers, and the new germ. By this means he 
will not only exhibit his taste in the selection of super- 
ficial agppearance, but will at once win admiration and 
give instruction through a correct representation of 
properties. In this wise it might be said that he had 
formed a style ; while, on the other hand, it is easy to 
see how such a master, if he proceeded with less thor- 
oughness, if he endeavored to give only the striking 
and dazzling, would soon pass into mannerism. 

Simple Imitation therefore labors in the ante-chamber 
that leads to Style. In proportion to the truth, care, 
and purity with which it goes to work, the composure 
with which it examines and feels, the calmness with 
which it proceeds to imitate, the degree of reflection 
it uses, that is to say, with which it learns to compare 
the like and separate the unlike, and to arrange sepa- 
rate objects under one general idea, — will be its 
title to step upon the threshold of the sanctuary 

If now we consider Manner more carefully, we shall 
see that it may be, in the highest sense and purest 
signification of the word, the middle ground between 
simple imitation of nature and style. 

The nearer it approaches, with its more facile treat- 
ment, to faithful imitation and on the other side, the 
more earnestly it endeavors to seize and comprehensibly 
express the character of objects, the more it strives, by 
means of a pure, lively, and active individuality, to 
combine the two, the higher, greater, and more worthy 
of respect it will become. But if such an artist ceases 
to hold fast by and reflect upon nature, he will soon 
lose sight of the true principles of art, and his manner 
will become more and more empty and insignificant in 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

proportion as he leaves behind simple imitation and 

We need not here repeat that we use the word Man- 
ner in a high and honorable sense, so that artists who, 
according to our definition, would be termed Mannerists 
have nothing to complain of. It is only incumbent upon 
us to preserve the word Style in the highest honor, in 
order to have an expression for the highest point art 
has attained or ever can attain. To be aware of this 
point is in itself a great good fortune, and to enter 
upon its consideration in company with sensible people, 
a noble pleasure, for which we hope to have many op- 
portunities in the sequel. 




I HAVE been obliged, in what precedes, to say so much 
in favor of antiquity, and particularly of the plastic 
artists of those times, that I may possibly be misunder- 
stood, which so often happens where the reader, instead 
of preserving a just balance, throws himself at once 
into the opposite scale. I therefore seize the present 
opportunity to explain my meaning, using plastic art 
as a symbol of the never-ceasing life of human actions 
and affairs. 

A young friend, Karl Ernst Schubarth, in his 
pamphlet, A Critique on Goethe, which in every respect 
calls for my esteem and thanks, says : " I do not agree 
with those worshipers of the ancients, among whom is 
Goethe himself, who maintain that in high and com- 
plete development of humanity nothing has ever been 
arrived at to compare with the Greeks." Fortunately, 
Schubarth's own words give us an opportunity to ad- 
just this difference, where he says, " As to our Goethe, 
let me say that I prefer Shakespeare to him, for this 
reason, — that in Shakespeare I seem to find a strong, 
unconscious man, who is able, with perfect certainty, 
and without reasoning, reflecting, subtilizing and clas- 
sifying, to seize with never-failing hand the true and 
false in man, and express it quite naturally; whilst 
in Goethe, though I recognize the same ultimate aim, I 
am always fighting with obstacles, and must be always 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

taking heed lest I accept for plain truth what is only 
an exhibition of plain error." 

Here our friend hits the nail on the head; for in 
that very point where he places me below Shakespeare 
do we stand below the ancients. And what is it we ad- 
vance concerning the ancients? Any talent, the devel- 
opment of which is not favored by time and circum- 
stances, and must on that account work its way 
through a thousand obstacles, and get rid of a thou- 
sand errors, must always be at a disadvantage, when 
compared with a contemporary one that has the op- 
portunity to cultivate itself with facility and act to the 
extent of its capacity without opposition. 

It often happens that people who are no longer young 
are able, out of the fullness of their experience, to fur- 
nish an illustration that will explain or strengthen an 
assertion ; and this is my excuse for relating the follow- 
ing anecdote. A practised diplomatist who had desired 
my acquaintance, after the first interview, when he had 
had but little opportunity of seeing or conversing with 
me, remarked to his friends : " Voila un homme qui a 
eu de grands chagrins ! " These words set me to think- 
ing. The skilful physiognomist's eye did not deceive 
him, only he laid to the effect of suffering the phe- 
nomenon that should also have been ascribed to oppo- 
sition. An observant, straightforward German might 
have said, " Here is a man who has had a very hard time 
of it." Since, then, the signs of past endurance and 
of persevering activity do not disappear from the 
face, it is no wonder if all that remains of us and our 
strivings should bear the same impress, and indicate, 
to the attentive observer, a mode of being whose aim 
has been to preserve its balance alike under circum- 


Ancient and Modern 

stances of happiest development or narrowest limita- 
tion, and to maintain the stubbornness, if it could not 
always tjie highest dignity, of human existence. 

But letting pass old and new, past and present, we 
may in general assert that every artistic production 
places us in the same state of mind the author was 
in. If that was clear and bright, we shall feel free; 
if that was narrow, timid, or anxious, we shall feel 
limited in the same proportion. 

Upon reflection, we should add that this refers only 
to treatment. Material and import do not enter into 
consideration. If we bear in mind this principle, and 
look around in the world of art, we maintain that 
every work will afford us pleasure which the artist 
himself produced with ease and facility. What amateur 
does not rejoice in the possession of a successful draw- 
ing or etching of our Chodowiecki? We see in them 
such an immediate apprehension of nature, as we know 
it, that they leave nothing to wish for. But he would 
not be able to go beyond his mark and line, without 
losing all the advantage he derives from his peculiar 

We shall even go farther, and confess that we have 
derived great pleasure from Mannerists, when the man- 
ner has not been carried too far, and that we are 
pleased with the possession of their works. The artists 
who have received this name have been gifted with un- 
common talent, but became early aware that, in the 
state of the times as well as of the schools into which 
they were cast by fate, there was no room for minute 
labor, but that they must choose their part, and per- 
fect themselves speedily. They therefore made them- 
selves a language, into which they could, without far- 


Goethe's luiterary Essays 

ther trouble, translate with ease and dexterity all 
visible subjects, and exhibit to us representations of 
all sorts of scenes with greater or less success. Thus 
whole nations have been entertained and hoodwinked 
for long periods of time, until at last one or another 
artist has found the way back to nature and a higher 
feeling of art. 

We may perceive, by the Herculanean antiquities, 
how the ancients also fell into this kind of manner ; only 
their models were too great, too present, fresh, and well 
preserved, for their second and third rate artists to be 
able to lose themselves entirely in insignificance. 

Let us now assume a higher and more agreeable point 
of view, and consider the talent with which Raphael 
was so singularly gifted. Born with the happiest nat- 
ural gifts, at a time when art combined the most con- 
scientious labor, attention, industrj^, and truth, the 
young man was already led by excellent masters to the 
threshold, and had only to raise his foot to enter the 
temple. Disciplined by Perugino in the most careful 
elaboration, his genius was developed by Leonardo da 
Vinci and Michelangelo. Neither of these artists, in 
spite of their long life and the cultivation of their 
powers, seems ever to have reached the true enjoyment 
of artistic production. The former, if we look closely, 
wearied himself with thought, and dissipated his powers 
in mechanical inquiries; and we have to blame the 
latter for spending his fairest years among stone quar- 
ries, getting out marble blocks and slabs, so that, in- 
stead of carrying out his intention of carving all the 
heroes of the Old and New Testament, he has left only 
his Moses as an example of what he could and should 
have done. Raphael, however, during his whole life, 

Ancient and Modern 

ever increased in the even facility of his work. We 
see in him the development of the intellectual and 
active powers, which preserve such remarkable bal- 
ance that it may be affirmed that no modern artist 
has possessed such purity and completeness of thought 
and such clearness of expression. In him we have 
another instance of a talent that pours out to us the 
freshest water from the purest source. He never affects 
a Greek manner, but feels, thinks, works like a Greek. 
We see the fairest talent developed in the most favor- 
able hours. The same thing occurred, under like con- 
ditions and circumstances, in the time of Pericles. 

It may therefore always be maintained that native 
talent is indeed indispensable to production, but equally 
indispensable is a commensurate development in the 
provinces of nature and art. Art cannot dispense with 
its prerogatives, and cannot achieve perfection without 
favorable outward circumstances. 

Consider the school of the Caracci. Here was a 
ground-work of talent, earnestness, industry, and con- 
sistent development ; here was an element for the 
natural and artistic development of admirable powers. 
We see a whole dozen of excellent artists produced by 
it, each practising and cultivating his peculiar talent 
according to the same general idea, so that it hardly 
seems possible that after times should produce anything 

Let us consider the immense stride made by the 
highly gifted Rubens into the world of art! He too 
was no son of earth ; look at the rich inheritance he was 
heir to, from the old masters of the fourteenth and fif- 
teenth centuries, through all the admirable artists of 
the sixteenth, at the close of which he was born. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Again, think of the crowd of Dutch painters of the 
seventeenth century, whose great abilities found de- 
velopment now at home, now south, now north, until 
we can no longer deny the incredible sagacity with 
which their eye pierced into nature, and the facility 
with which they have succeeded in expressing her legiti- 
mate charm, so as to enchant us everywhere. Nay, in 
proportion as we possess their productions, we are 
willing to limit ourselves for long stretches of time to 
their study and admiration, and are far from blaming 
those amateurs who are contented with the possession 
and enjoyment of this class of pictures exclusively. 

In the same way, we could bring a hundred exam- 
ples in support of our assertion. To see distinctly, 
to apprehend clearly, to impart with facility, — these 
are the qualities that enchant us ; and when we main- 
tain that all these are to be found in the genuine 
Greek works, united with the noblest subjects, the most 
unerring and perfect execution, it will be seen why it 
is we always begin and end with them. Let each one 
be a Greek in his own way, but let him be a Greek! 

The same is true of literary merit. What is compre- 
hensible is always the first to attract us and give us 
complete satisfaction. If we even take the works of 
one and the same poet, we shall find some that seem to 
indicate a degree of laborious effort, and others again 
affect us like natural products, because the talent was 
commensurate with the form and import. And once 
more, it is our firm belief that although any age may 
give birth to the fairest talent, it is not given to all to 
be able to develop it in its perfect proportions. 




Dilettantism presupposes Art, as botch-work does 
handicraft. — Idea of Artist, in opposition to Dilettante. 
— Practice of Art scientifically. — Adoption of an Ob- 
jective Art. — Legitimate progress and advancement. — 
Calling and profession. — Connection with a world of 
Art and Artists. — Schools. 

The Dilettante does not hold the same relation to all 
the arts. 

All the arts have an objective and a subjective side, 
and according as one or the other of these is pre- 
dominant, the Dilettante has value or not. 

Where the subjective of itself is of great importance, 
the Dilettante must and can approximate to the artist. 
For instance, oratory, lyrical poetry, music, dance. 

Where the reverse is the case, there is a more marked 
distinction between Artist and Dilettante, as in archi- 
tecture, the arts of design, epic and dramatic poetry. 

Art itself gives laws, and commands the time. 

Dilettantism follows the lead of the time. 

When masters in art follow a false taste, the Dilet- 
tante expects so much the sooner to reach the level 
of art. 

The Dilettante, receiving his first impulse to self- 
production from the effect of works of art on him, con- 
founds these effects with the objective causes and mo- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

tives, and would now make the state of feeling he has 
been put into productive and practical; as if out of 
the fragrance of flowers one should try to reproduce 
flowers themselves. 

The speaking to the feelings, the last eff*ect of all 
poetical organization, but which presupposes the con- 
currences of the whole of art, seems to the Dilettante to 
be the thing itself, and out of it he endeavors to pro- 

In general, the Dilettante, in his ignorance of him- 
self, puts the passive in the place of the active, and 
because he receives a lively impression from eff'ects, 
thinks from these impressed efi^ects to produce other 

The peculiar want of the Dilettante is Architectonic, 
in the highest sense, — that practical power which cre- 
ates, forms, constitutes. Of this he has only a sort of 
s/^ misgiving, and submits himself to his material, instead 
of commanding it. 
V It will be found that the Dilettante runs particularly 
to neatness, which is the completion of the thing in 
hand, wherefrom a sort of illusion arises, as if the thing 
itself were worthy of existing. The same holds true of 
accuracy (accuratesse), and all the last conditions of 
Form, which can just as well accompany the formless. 

General principles on which Dilettantism is allow- 
able : — 

When the Dilettante subjects himself to the severest 
rules at the outset, and undertakes to complete all the 
successive steps with the greatest strictness, — which 
he can the better aff*ord to do, inasmuch as (1) the 
goal is not demanded of him; and, (2) if he wishes to 

Notes on Dilettantism 

retreat, he has prepared the surest path to connoisseur- 

In opposition to the general maxim, the Dilettante 
will thus be subject to more severe criticism than the 
Artist, who, resting upon a secure basis of art, incurs 
less danger in departing from rules, and may even by 
that means enlarge the province of art itself. The true 
artist rests firmly and securely upon himself. His en- 
deavor, his mark, is the highest aim of art. In his own 
estimation he will always be far from that aim, and 
necessarily, therefore, will be always modest in regard 
to art or the idea of art, and will maintain that he has 
as yet accomplished little, no matter how excellent his 
work may be, or how high his consciousness of supe- 
riority, in reference to the world, may reach. Dilet- 
tanti, or real botchers, seem, on the other hand, not 
to strive towards an aim, not to see what is beyond, 
but only what is beside them. On this account they are ^' 
always comparing, are for the most part extravagant 
in their praise, unskilful where they blame, have an 
infinite deference for their like, thus giving themselves 
an air of friendliness and fairness, which is in fact only 
to exalt themselves. 

Dilettantism in Lyrical Foetry 

The fact that the German language was in the be- 
ginning applied to poetry, not by any one great poetic 
genius, but through merely middling heads, must inspire 
Dilettantism with confidence to essay itself in it. 

,The cultivation of French literature and language 
has made even Dilettanti more artistic. 

The French were always more rigorous, tended to 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

severer correctness, and demanded even of Dilettanti 
taste and spirit within, and externally a faultless dic- 
tion. — In England, Dilettantism held more by Latin 
and Greek. — Sonnets of the Italians. 

Impudence of the latest Dilettantism, originated and 
maintained through reminiscences of a richly cultivated 
poetic dialect, and the facility of a good mechanical 

Polite literature of universities, induced by a mod- 
ern method of study. — Lady poems. — Schongeisterei 
(bel esprit). — ^Annual Keepsakes, — Musenalmanache, — 
Journals. — Beginning and spread of translations. 

Immediate transition from the classes and the uni- 
versity to authorship. — Epoch of ballads, and songs of 
the people. — Gessner, poetic prose. — Imitation of the 
bards. — Burger's influence on sing-song. — Rhymeless 
verses. — Klopstockean odes. — Claudius. — Wieland's 
laxity. — In earlier times : Latin verses ; pedantism ; more 
handicraft ; skill, without poetic spirit. 

Dilettantism in Pragmatic Poetry 

Reasons why the Dilettante hates the powerful, the 
passionate, the characteristic, and only represents the 
middling, the moral. 
v^ The Dilettante never paints the object, but only the 
feeling it gives rise to in him. 

He avoids the character of the object. 

'AH Dilettante creations in this style of poetry will 
have a pathological character, and express only the 
attractions and repulsions felt by their author. 

The Dilettante thinks to reach poetry by means of 
his wits. 

Notes on Dilettantism 

Dramatic botchers go mad when they desire to give 
effect to their work. 

Dilettantism in Dramatic Art 

French comedy is, even among amateurs, obligato, 
and a social institution. 

Italian amateur-comedy is founded on a puppet, or 
puppet-like, representation. 

Germany, in former times, Jesuit-schools. 

In later times: French amateur-comedies, for aiding 
the cultivation of the language, in noble houses. 

Mixing up of ranks in German amateur-comedy. 

Conditions, under which, perhaps, a moderate prac- 
tice in theatrical matters may be harmless and allow- 
able, or even in some measure advantageous : 

Permanence of the same company. 

To avoid passionate pieces, and choose such as are 
reflective and social. 

To admit no children or very young persons. 

Greatest possible strictness in outward forms. 

Advantages of Dilettantism in General 

It prevents an entire want of cultivation. 

Dilettantism is a necessary consequence of a general 
extension of art, and may even be a cause of it. 

It can, under certain circumstances, help to excite 
and develop a true artistic talent. 

Elevates handicraft to a certain resemblance to art. 

Has a civilizing tendency. 

In case of crude ignorance, it stimulates a certain 
taste for art, and extends it to where the artist would 
not be able to reach. 


GoetJie^s Literary Essays 

Gives occupation to productive power, and cultivates 
something serious in man. 

Appearances are changed into ideas. 

Teaches to analyze impressions. 

Aids the appropriation and reproduction of forms. 

In Lyrical Poetry 

Cultivation of language in general. 

More manifold interest " in humanioribus," in con- 
trast to the crudeness of the ignorant, or the pedantic 
narrowness of the mere man of business or pedant. 

Cultivation of the feelings and of the verbal expres- 
sion of the same. 

The cultivated man ought to be able to express his 
feelings with poetic beauty. 

Idealization of concepts regarding objects of com- 
mon life. Cultivation of the imagination, especially as 
an integral part of the culture of the intellect. 

Awaking and direction of the productive imagination 
to the highest functions of the mind in the sciences and 
practical life. 

Cultivation of the sense of the rhythmical. 

There being no objective laws, either for the internal 
or external construction of a poem, the amateur ought 
to hold fast to acknowledged models much more strongly 
than the master does, and rather imitate the good that 
exists than* strive after originality ; and in the external 
and metrical parts, follow strictly the well-known gen- 
eral rules. 

And as the Dilettante can only form himself after 
models, he ought, in order to avoid one-sldedness, to 
acquire the most universal knowledge of all models, and 

Notes on Dilettantism 

survey the field of poetic literature even more perfectly 
than is required of the artist himself. 

In the Dramatic Art 

Opportunity of farther cultivation in declamation. 
Attention to one's own representations. 
Participates in the advantages predicated of Dancing. 
Exercise of the JMemory. 
Sensuous attention and accuracy. 

Disadvantage of Dilettantism in General 

The Dilettante jumps over the steps, stops at cer- 
tain steps which he regards as the end, and from which 
he thinks himself justified in judging of the whole; this 
prevents his perfectibility. 

He subjects himself to the necessity of working by 
false rules, because he cannot work even as a Dilettante 
without some rules, and he does not understand the 
true objective rules. 

He departs more and more from the truth of ob- 
jects, and loses himself in subjective errors. 

Dilettantism deprives art of its element, and spoils 
art's public by depriving it of its earnestness and 

All tendency to easy contentment destroys art, and 
Dilettantism brings in indulgence and favor. At the 
expense of the true artists, it brings into notice those 
that stand nearest to Dilettantism. 

With Dilettantism the loss is always greater than the 

From handicraft the way is open to rise to art, but 
not from botch-work. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Dilettantism favors the indiiferent, partial, and 

Injury Dilettanti do to art by bringing artists down 
to their level. 

Can bear no good artist near them. 

In all cases where the art itself has no proper regu- 
lative power, as in Poetry, the art of Gardening, act- 
ing, the injury Dilettantism does is greater, and its 
pretensions more arrogant. The worst case is that of 
histrionic art. 

In Lyrical Poetry 

Belletristic shallowness and emptiness, withdrawal 
from solid studies, or superficial treatment. 

A greater danger exists in this than in the other 
arts of mistaking a merely Dilettante dexterity for a 
true genius for art, and in this case, the subject is 
worse off than in any other Dilettantism, because its 
existence becomes an entire nullity; for the poet is 
nothing at all except through earnestness and con- 
formity to art. 

Dilettantism in general, but especially in poetry, 
weakens the feeling and perception for the good that 
lies beyond it, and whilst it is indulgent to a restless 
desire to produce, which leads it to nothing perfect, 
robs itself of all the culture it might derive through 
the perception of foreign excellences. 

Poetical Dilettantism may be of two sorts. Either 
it neglects the (indispensable) mechanical, and thinks 
enough done if it shows mind and feeling; or it seeks 
poetry only in the mechanical, acquiring a technical dex- 
terity therein, but without spirit or significance. Both 

Notes on Dilettantism 

are injurious, but the former rather injures the art. 
and the latter the subject. 

All Dilettanti are Plagiarists. They enervate and 
pull to* pieces all that is original in manner or matter, 
and at the same time imitate, copy, and piece out their 
own emptiness with it. Thus the language gets filled 
with phrases and formulae stolen from all sides, which 
have no longer any meaning, and you may read whole 
books written in a fine st?/le and containing nothing. 
In a word, all that is really beautiful and good in true 
poetry is profaned, rendered common, and degraded. 

In Pragmatical Poetry 

All the disadvantages of Dilettantism in Lyrical 
Poetry apply here in a far higher degree. Not the art 
alone, but the subject also, suffers more. 

Mixing up of different kinds. 

In Histrionic Art 

Caricature of one's own faulty individuality. 

Incapacitates the mind for all occupation, through 
the illusion of a fantastic mode of viewing objects. 

Expense of interest and passion, without fruit. 

Eternal circle of monotonous, ever repeated, ineffec- 
tual activity. 

(There is nothing so attractive to Dilettanti as 
rehearsals. Professional actors hate them.) 

Special forbearance and pampering of theatrical 
Dilettanti with applause. 

Eternal stimulation towards a passionate condition 
and behavior, without balance. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Feeding all hateful passions, with the worst results 
for civic and domestic existence. 

Blunting the feeling for poetry. 

Use of exalted language for commonplace sentiments. 

A rag- fair of thoughts, commonplaces, and descrip- 
tions in the memory. 

Pervading affectation and mannerism, reaching also 
into life. 

Most injurious indulgence towards the indifferent 
and faulty, in a public and quite personal case. 

The general tolerance for the home-made becomes in 
this case more pronounced. 

Most pernicious use of amateur comedies for the edu- 
cation of children, where it turns into caricature. In 
the same manner, the most dangerous of all amusements 
for universities, &c. 

Destruction of the ideality of art, because the Dilet- 
tante, not being able to raise himself through the ap- 
propriation of artistic ideas and traditions, must do 
all through a pathological reality. 





(Literarischer Sansctdottismiis) 

Those who consider it an absolute duty to connect 
definite concepts with the words which they employ in 
speaking and writing will very rarely use the expres- 
sions, " classical author " and " classical work." 

What are the conditions that produce a classical na- 
tional author? He must, in the first place, be born in 
a great commonwealth, which after a series of great 
and historic events has become a happy and unified 
nation. He must find in his countrymen loftiness of 
disposition, depth of feeling, and vigor and consistency 
of action. He must be thoroughly pervaded with the 
national spirit, and through his innate genius feel 
capable of sympathizing with the past as well as the 
present. He must find his nation in a high state of civi- 
lization, so that he will have no difficulty in obtaining 
for himself a high degree of culture. He must find 
much material already collected and ready for his use, 
and a large number of more or less perfect attempts 
made by his predecessors. And finally, there must be 
such a happy conjuncture of outer and inner circum- 
stances that he will not have to pay dearly for his mis- 
takes, but that in the prime of his life he may be able 

1 Reply to a critic who complained of " the poverty of the 
Germans in great classical prose works," and indiscriminately 
attacked all the writers of the time. 


Goethe^s Literary Essays 

to see the possibilities of a great theme and to develop 
it according to some uniform plan into a well-arranged 
and well-constructed literary work. 

If any one, who is endowed with clearness of vision 
and fairness of mind, contrasts these conditions under 
which alone a classic writer, especially a classic prose- 
writer, is possible, with the conditions under which the 
best Germans of this century have worked, he will re- 
spect and admire what they have succeeded in doing, 
and notice with tactful regret in what they have failed. 

An important piece of writing, like an important 
speech, can only be the outgrowth of actual life. The 
author no more than the man of action can fashion the 
conditions under which he is born and under which he 
acts. Each one, even the greatest genius, suffers in 
some respects from the social and political conditions 
of his age, just as in other respects he benefits by them. 
And only from a real nation can a national writer of 
the highest order be expected. It is unfair, however, 
to reproach the German nation because, though closely 
held together by its geographical position, it is divided 
politically. We do not wish for Germany those po- 
litical revolutions which might prepare the way for 
classical works. 

And so any criticism which approaches the question 
from such a false point of view is most unfair. The 
critic must look at our conditions, as they were and as 
they now are ; he must consider the individual circum- 
stances under which German writers obtained their 
training, and he will easily find the correct point of 
view. There is nowhere in Germany a common centre 
of social culture, where men of letters might gather 
together and perfect themselves, each one in his par- 

The Productmi of a National Classic 

ticular field, in conformity with the same standard. 
Born in the most widely scattered portions of the land, 
educated in the most diverse ways, left almost entirely 
to themselves or to impressions derived from the most 
varied environments, carried away by a special liking 
for this or that example of German or foreign litera- 
ture, the German men of letters are forced, without any 
guidance, to indulge in all sorts of experiments, even 
in botch-work, in order to try their powers. Only 
gradually and after considerable reflection do they 
realize what they ought to do. Practice alone teaches 
them what they can do. Again and again the bad taste 
of a large public, which devours the bad and the good 
with equal pleasure, leads them into doubt. Then 
again an acquaintance with the educated though widely 
scattered population of the great empire encourages 
them, and the common labors and endeavors of their 
contemporaries fortify them. Such are the conditions 
,under which German writers finally reach man's estate. 
Then concern for their own support, concern for a 
family, force them to look about in the world at large, 
and often with the most depressing feeling, to do work 
for which they have no respect themselves, in order to 
earn a livelihood, so that they can devote themselves 
to that kind of work with which alone their cultured 
minds would occupy themselves. What German author 
of note will not recognize himself in this picture, and 
will not confess with modest regret that he often enough 
sighed for an opportunity to subordinate sooner the 
peculiarities of his original genius to a general national 
culture, which unfortunately did not exist? 

For foreign customs and literatures, irrespective of 
the many advantages they have contributed to the ad- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

vancement of the higher classes, have prevented the 
Germans from developing sooner as Germans. 

And now let us look at the work of German poets and 
prose-writers of recognized ability. With what care 
and what devotion did they not follow in their labors 
an enlightened conviction ! It is, for example, not say- 
ing too much, when we maintain that a capable and 
industrious literary critic, through a comparison of 
all the editions of our Wieland, — a man of whom we 
may proudly boast in spite of the snarling of all our 
literary parasites, — could develop the whole theory of 
good taste simply from the successive corrections of 
this author, who has so indefatigably worked toward 
his own improvement. We hope that every librarian 
will take pains to have such a collection made, while it 
is still possible, and then the next century will know 
how to make grateful use of it. 

In the future we may perhaps be bold enough to lay 
before the public a history of the development of our 
foremost writers, as it is shown in their works. We 
do not expect any confessions, but if they would only 
themselves impart to us, as far as they see fit, those 
facts which contributed most to their development, and 
those which stood most in the way of it, the influence 
of the good they have done would become still more 

For if we consider what superficial critics take least 
notice of, — the good fortune which young men of talent 
enjoy nowadays in being able to develop earlier, and to 
attain sooner a pure style appropriate to the subject 
at hand, — to whom do they owe it but to their predeces- 
sors in the last half of this century, each of whom in 
his own way has trained himself with unceasing en- 

The Production of a National Classic 

deavor amidst all sorts of hindrances? Through this 
circumstance a sort of invisible school has sprung up, 
and the. young man who now enters it gets into a much 
larger and brighter circle than the earlier author, who 
had to roam through it first himself in the faint light 
of dawn, in order to help widen it gradually and as it 
were only by chance. The pseudo-critic, who would 
light the way for us with his little lamp, comes much 
too late; the day has dawned, and we shall not close 
our shutters again. 

Men do not give vent to their ill humor in good so- 
ciety ; and he must be in a very bad humor, who at this 
present moment, when almost everybody writes well,- 
denies that Germany has writers of the first order. 
One does not need to go far to find an agreeable novel, 
a clever sketch, a clearly written essay on this or that 
subject. What proof do not our critical papers, 
journals, and compends furnish of a uniformly good 
style? The Germans show a more and more thorough 
mastery of facts, and the arrangement of the material 
steadily gains in clearness. A dignified philosophy, in 
spite of all the opposition of wavering opinions, makes 
them more and more acquainted with their intellectual 
powers, and facilitates the use of them. The numerous 
examples of style, the preliminary labors and endeavors 
of so many men, enable a young man now sooner to 
present with clearness and grace and in an appropriate 
manner what he has received from without and devel- 
oped within himself. Thus a healthy and fair-minded 
German sees the writers of his nation at a fair stage 
of development, and is convinced that the public, too, 
will not let itself be misled by an ill-humored criticaster. 
Such a one ought to be barred from society, from 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

which every one should be excluded whose destructive 
work might only make productive writers disheart- 
ened, the sympathetic public listless, and the onlookers 
distrustful and indifferent. 



I (1827) 

Everywhere we hear and read of the progress of the 
human race, of the broader view of international and 
human relations. Since it is not my office here to 
define or qualify these broad generalities, I shall 
merely acquaint my friends with my conviction that 
there is being formed a universal world-literature, in 
which an honorable role is reserved for us Germans. 
All the nations review our work; they praise, censure, 
accept, and reject, imitate and misrepresent us, open 
or close their hearts to us. All this we must accept 
with equanimity, since this attitude, taken as a whole, 
is of great value to us. 

We experience the same thing from our own country- 
men, and why should the nations agree among them- 
selves if fellow-citizens do not understand how to unite 
and cooperate with each other? In a literary sense we 
have a good start of the other nations ; they will al- 
ways be learning to prize us more, even if they only 
show it by borrowing from us without thanks, and 
making use of us without giving recognition of the fact. 

As the military and physical strength of a nation 
develops from its internal unity and cohesion, so must 
its aesthetic and ethical strength grow gradually from 
a similar unanimity of feeling and ideas. This, how- 
ever, can only be accomplished with time. I look back 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

as a cooperator in this work over many years and 
reflect how a German literature has been brought to- 
gether out of heterogeneous, if not conflicting, elements, 
— a literature which for that reason is only peculiarly 
one in the sense that it is composed in one language, — 
which, however, out of a variety of wholly different 
talents and abilities, minds and actions, criticisms and 
undertakings, gradually draws out to the light of day 
the true inner soul of a people. 

II (1827) 

My sanguine suggestion that our present active epoch 
with its increasing communication between the na- 
tions might soon hope for a world-literature has been 
taken up by chance by our neighbors of the west, 
who indeed can accomplish great things in this same 
direction. They express themselves on the subject in 
the following manner: 

Le Globe, Tome V., No. 91. 

" Every nation indeed, when its turn comes, feels 
that tension which, like the attractive power of physical 
bodies, draws one towards the other, and eventually 
will unite in one universal sympathy all the races of 
which humanity consists. The endeavor of scholars to 
understand one another and compare one another's 
work is by no means new ; the Latin language in former 
times has provided an admirable vehicle for this pur- 
pose. But however they labored and strove, the bar- 
riers by which peoples were separated began to divide 
them also, and hurt their 'intellectual intercourse. The 
instrument of which they made use could only satisfy a 

Goethe's Theory of a World Literature 

certain range and course of ideas, so that they touched 
each other only through the intellect, instead of di- 
rectly - through the feelings and through poetry. 
Travel, the study of languages, periodical literature, 
have taken the place of that universal language, and 
establish many intimate and harmonious relations 
which it could never cultivate. Even the nations that 
devote themselves chiefly to trade and industry are 
most concerned with this exchange of ideas. Eng- 
land, whose home activity is so tremendous, whose life 
is so busy, that it seems as if it would be able to study 
nothing but itself, at the present time is showing a 
symptom of this need and desire to broaden its con- 
nection with the outside world and widen its horizon. 
Its Reviews, with which we are already familiar, are 
not enough for them; two new periodicals, devoted 
especially to foreign literature, and cooperating to- 
gether towards that end, are to appear regularly." 

Of the first of these English journals. The Foreign 
Quarterly Review, there are already two volumes in 
our hands ; the third we expect directly, and we shall 
in the course of these pages often refer to the views of 
important men who are giving proof, with so much 
insight and industry, of their interest in foreign litera- 

But first of all we must confess that it made us smile 
to see, at the end of the old year, more than thirty 
literary almanacs (T aschenbilclier) , already noticed 
in an English journal, — not indeed reviewed, but at 
least referred to with some characteristic comments. 
It is pleasant that our productions of this sort meet 
with approval and find a market over there, since we 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

are also obliged to buy their similar works for good 
money. Little by little we shall discover, I suppose, 
whether the balance of this trade turns out to our ad- 

But these trivial considerations must give place to 
more serious ones. Left to itself every literature will 
exhaust its vitality, if it is not refreshed by the interest 
and contributions of a foreign one. What naturalist 
does not take pleasure in the wonderful things that he 
sees produced by reflection in a mirror.? Now what a 
mirror in the field of ideas and morals means, every 
one has experienced in himself, and once his attention 
is aroused, he will understand how much of his educa- 
tion he owes to it. 

Ill (1828) 

The Edinburgh Review, as well as the current Foreign 
and Foreign Quarterly Reviews, we can only mention 
briefly here. 

These journals, as they win an ever wider public, will 
contribute in the most effective way towards that uni- 
versal world-literature for which we are hoping. Only, 
we repeat, the idea is not that the nations shall think 
alike, but that they shall learn how to understand 
each other, and, if they do not care to love one 
another, at least that they will learn to tolerate 
one another. Several societies now exist for the pur- 
pose of making the British Isles acquainted with the 
continent, and are working effectively and with a prac- 
tical unanimity of opinion. We continentals can 
learn from them the intellectual background of the 
time across the channel, what they are thinking and 
what their judgments about things are. On the whole, 

Goethe's Theory of a World Literature 

we acknowledge gladly that they go about the work 
with intense seriousness, with industry and tolerance 
and general good-will. The result for us will be that we 
shall be compelled to think again of our own recent lit- 
erature, which we have in some measure already put to 
one side, and to consider and examine it anew. Espe- 
cially worthy of notice is their profitable method of 
starting with any considerable author, and going over 
the whole field in which he worked. 

The methods and manner of these critics deserve our 
consideration in many ways. Although varying on 
many points, yet there is an agreement in criticism 
upon the main issues, which seems to indicate, if not a 
coterie, yet a number of contemporary critics who 
have come to a similar attitude and point of view. 
Worthy of our admiration are the honest and sincere 
application, the careful labors, which they devote to 
surveying our complex artistic and literary world, and 
to looking over it with a just and fair attitude and 
vision. We shall hope often to be able to return to 
them and their work. 

IV (1829) 


The Difficulties 

If a world-literature, such as is inevitable with the 
ever-increasing facility of communication, is to be 
formed in the near future, we must expect from it noth- 
ing more and nothing diff'erent from what it can and 
does accomplish. 

The wide world, extensive as it is, is only an ex- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

panded fatherland, and will, if looked at aright, be able 
to give us no more than what our home soil can endow 
us with also. What pleases the crowd spreads itself 
over a limitless field, and, as we already see, meets ap- 
proval in all countries and regions. The serious and 
intellectual meets with less success, but those who are 
devoted to higher and more profitable things will learn 
to know each other more quickly and more intimately. 
For there are everywhere in the world such men, to whom 
the truth and the progress of humanity are of interest 
and concern. But the road which they pursue, the 
pace which they keep, is not to everybody's liking; 
the particularly aggressive wish to advance faster, and 
so turn aside, and prevent the furthering of that which 
they could promote. The serious-minded must there- 
fore form a quiet, almost secret, company, since it 
would be futile to set themselves against the current of 
the day; rather must they manfully strive to maintain 
their position till the flood has past. Their principal 
consolation, and indeed encouragement, such men must 
find in the fact that truth is serviceable. If they can 
discover this relation, and exhibit its meaning and influ- 
ence in a vital way, they will not fail to produce a 
powerful eff'ect, indeed one that will extend over a 
range of years. 

The Encouragements 

Since it is often profitable to present to the reader 
not one's bald thought, but rather to awaken and stimu- 
late his own thinking, it may be useful to recall the 
above obser\^ation which I had occasion to write down 
some time ago. 

Goethe^s Theory of a World Literature 

The question whether this or that occupation to 
which a man devotes himself is useful recurs often 
enough in the course of time, and must come before us 
especially at this time when it is no longer permitted 
to any one to live quietly according to his tastes, satis- 
fied, moderate, and without demands upon him. The 
external world is so importunate and exciting that each 
one of us is threatened with being carried away in the 
whirlpool. In order to satisfy his own needs, each one 
sees himself compelled to attend almost instantaneously 
to the requirements of others ; and the question nat- 
urally arises whether he has any skill or readiness to 
satisfy these pressing duties. There seems to be nothing 
left to us to say than that only the purest and strictest 
egoism can save us; but this must be a self-conscious 
resolution, thoroughly felt and calmly expressed. 

Let each one ask himself for what he is best fitted, 
and let him cultivate this most ardently and wisely in 
himself and for himself ; let him consider himself suc- 
cessively as apprentice, as journeyman, as older jour- 
neyman, and finally, but with the greatest of circum- 
spection, as master. 

If he can, with discriminating modesty, increase his 
idemands on the external world only with the growth 
of his own capabilities, thus insinuating himself into 
the world's good graces by being useful, then he will 
attain his purpose step by step, and if he succeeds in 
reaching the highest level, will be able to influence men 
and things with ease. 

Life, if he studies it closely, will teach him the oppor- 
tunities and the hindrances which present or intrude 
themselves upon him; but this much the man of prac- 
tical wisdom will always have before his eyes : — To tire 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

oneself out for the sake of the favor of to-day brings no 
profit for to-morrow or after. 

Oth^r Considerations 

Every nation has peculiarities by which it is dis- 
tinguished from the others, and it is by these distin- 
guishing traits that nations are also attracted to and 
repelled from one another. The external expressions 
of these inner idiosyncrasies appear to the others in 
most cases strikingly disagreeable, or, if endurable, 
merely amusing. This is why, too, we always respect 
a nation less than it deserves. The inner traits, on the 
other hand, are not known or recognized, by foreigners 
or even by the nation itself ; for the inner nature of a 
whole nation, as well as the individual man, works all 
unconsciously. At the end we wonder, we are astounded, 
at what appears. 

These secrets I do not pretend to know, much less 
to have the cleverness to express them if I did. Only 
this much will I say, — that, so far as my insight goes, 
the characteristic intellectual and spiritual activity 
of the French is now at its height again, and for that 
reason will exercise soon again a great influence on the 
civilized world. I would gladly say more, but it leads 
too far; one has to be so detailed in order to be under- 
stood, and to make acceptable what one has to say. 

It was not merely permissible but highly admirable 
that a society of Germans was formed for the spe- 
cial purpose of studying German poetry; since these 
persons, as cultured men acquainted with the other 
fields of German literature and politics both generally 

Goethe's Theory of a World Literature 

and in detail, were well qualified to select and judge 
works of belles-lettres and use them as a basis for in- 
tellectual, as well as pleasurable and stimulating, con- 

Some one may say that the best literature of a 
nation cannot be discovered or recognized, unless one 
brings home to one's mind the whole complex of its 
circumstances and social conditions. Something of all 
this can be obtained from the papers, which give us 
enough detailed information of public affairs. But this 
is not enough; we must add to it what foreigners in 
their critical journals and reviews are accustomed to 
say about themselves and about other nations, particu- 
larly the Germans, — their ideas and opinions, their inter- 
est in and reception of our productions. If one wishes, 
for instance, to acquaint oneself with modern French 
literature, one should study the lectures which have 
been given for the last two years and are now appear- 
ing in print, — lectures such as Guizot's Cours dliistoire 
moderne, Villemain's Cours de litterature frangaise, 
and Cousin's Cours de lliistoire de la pMlosopliie, 
The significance they have both at home and for us 
comes out thus in the clearest fashion. Still more ef- 
fective and interesting are perhaps the frequent num- 
bers and volumes of Le Globe, La Revue frangaise, 
and the daily, Le Temps. None of these can be spared, 
if we are to keep vividly before our eyes both sides 
of these great movements in France and all the sub- 
sidiary currents that spring from them. 

French poetry, like French literature, is not distinct 
in spirit from the life and passions of the nation as 
a whole. In recent times it appears naturally always 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

as the " Opposition," and summons every genius to 
make the most of his talent in resisting the " powers 
that be," which since they are endowed with force do 
not need to be intellectual or spiritual. 

If we follow this verse, which reveals so much, we 
see deep down into the soul of the nation, and from 
the way in which they judge us, more or less favorably, 
we can at the same time learn to judge ourselves. And 
it can do no harm to have some one make us think about 

Whoever follows the course proposed above will very 
quickly become completely informed of all public af- 
fairs and semi-public affairs. In our present admirably 
managed book-trade it is possible to obtain books speed- 
ily, instead of waiting, as has often been my experi- 
ence, until the author takes occasion to send his work 
as-a gift, so that I have often read the book long before 
I received it from him. 

From all this it is evident that it is no light task to 
keep in touch with all the literature of the present day. 
Of the English, as well as the Italian, I shall have to 
speak again more particularly, for there is much more 
to be said. 



There has been talk for some time of a general world- 
literature, and indeed not without justice. For the 
nations, after they had been shaken into confusion 
and mutual conflict by the terrible wars, could not 
return to their settled and independent life again with- 
out noticing that they had learned many foreign ideas 

Goethe's Theory of a World Literature 

and ways, which they had unconsciously adopted, and 
had come to feel here and there previously unrecognized 
spiritual and intellectual needs. Out of this arose 
the feeling of neighborly relations, and, instead of 
shutting themselves up as before, they gradually came 
to desire the adoption of some sort of more or less 
free spiritual intercourse. 

This movem.ent, it is true, has lasted only a short 
time, but still long enough to start considerable specu- 
lation, and to acquire from it, as one must always from 
any kind of foreign trade, both profit and enjoyment. 




The epic and the dramatic writer are both subject 
to the universal poetic laws, especially the law of unity 
and the law of progressive development. Furthermore 
they both deal with similar subjects and both can 
use a great variety of motives. The essential dif- 
ference consists in this, that an epic poet narrates an 
event as completely past, while the dramatist presents 
it as completely present. If one wished to develop in 
detail from the nature of man these laws which both 
have to follow, one would continually have to keep be- 
fore his mind a rhapsodist and an actor, each in the 
character of a poet, the former surrounded by a circle 
of listeners quietly following with rapt attention, the 
latter by an impatient throng who have come simply to 
see and to hear. It would then not be difficult to 
deduce what is most advantageous to either of these 
two forms of poetry, what subjects either will choose 
preeminently, nor what motives either will make use of 
most frequently ; as I remarked in the beginning, neither 
can lay claim to any one thing exclusively. 

The subject of the epic as well as of tragedy should 
be based on the purely human, it should be vital, 
and it should make an appeal to one's feelings. The 
best effect is produced when the characters stand upon 
a certain plane of cultural advancement, so that their 
1 By Goethe and Schiller, 


On Epic and Dramatic Poetry 

actions are purely the expression of their personality 
and are not influenced by moral, political or mechani- 
cal considerations. The myths of the heroic times were 
especially useful to the poets on these grounds. 

The epic poem represents more especially action re- 
stricted to individuals ; tragedy, suffering restricted to 
individuals. The epic poem represents man as an 
external agent, engaged in battles, journeys, in fact 
in every possible kind of undertaking, and so demands 
a certain elaborateness of treatment. Tragedy, on the 
other hand, represents man as an internal agent, and 
the action, therefore, requires but little space in a genu- 
ine tragedy. 

There are five kinds of motives: 

(1) Progressive, which advance the action. These 
the drama uses preeminently. 

(2) Retrogressive, which draw the action away from 
its goal. These the epic poem uses almost exclusively. 

(3) Retarding, which delay the progress of the ac- 
tion or lengthen its course. Both epic and tragic 
poetry use these to very great advantage. 

(4) Retrospective, which introduce into the poem 
events which happened before the time of the poem. 

(5) Prospective, which anticipate what will happen 
after the time of the poem. The epic as well as the 
dramatic poet uses the last two kinds of motives to 
make his poem complete. 

The worlds which are to be represented are com- 
mon to both, namely: — 

(1) The physical world, which consists first of all 
of the immediate world to which the persons represented 
belong and which surrounds them. In it the dramatist 
limits himself mostly to one locality, while Jthe epic 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

poet moves about with greater freedom and in a larger 
sphere. Secondly, the physical world, containing the 
more remote world in which all of nature is included. 
This world the epic poet, who appeals exclusively to the 
imagination, makes more intelligible through the use 
of similes and metaphors, which figures of speech are 
employed more sparingly by the dramatist. 

(2) The moral world, which is absolutely common 
to both, and, whether normal or pathological, is best 
represented in its simplicity. 

(3) The world of fancies, forebodings, apparitions, 
chance and fate. This is available to both, only it 
must of course be approximated to the world of the 
senses. In this world there arises a special difficulty 
for us moderns, because we cannot easily find substi- 
tutes for the fabulous creatures, gods, soothsayers and 
oracles of the ancients, however much we may desire to. 

If we consider the manner of treatment as a whole, 
we shall find the rhapsodist, who recites what is com- 
pletely past, appearing as a wise man, with calm delib- 
eration surveying the events. It will be the purpose 
of his recital to get his hearers into an even frame 
of mind, so that they will listen to him long and will- 
ingly. He will divide the interest evenly, because it 
is impossible for him to counteract quickly a too vivid 
impression. He will, according to his pleasure, go back 
in point of time or anticipate what is to come. We may 
follow him everywhere, for he makes his appeal only 
to the imagination, which originates its own images and 
which is to a certain extent indifferent as to which 
images are called up. The rhapsodist as a higher being 
ought not to appear himself in his poem; he would 
read best of all behind a curtain, so that we may 

On Epic and Dramatic Poetry 

separate everything personal from his work, and may 
believe we are hearing only the voice of the Muses. 

The. actor represents the very reverse of this. He 
presents himself as a definite individuality. It is his 
desire to have us take interest exclusively in him and 
in his immediate surroundings, so that we may feel with 
him the sufferings of his soul and of his body, may share 
his embarrassments and forget ourselves in him. To 
be sure he, too, will proceed by degrees, but he can risk 
far more vivid effects, because by his actual presence 
before the eyes of the audience he can neutralize a 
stronger impression even by a weaker one. The senses of 
spectators and listeners must be constantly stimulated. 
They must not rise to a contemplative frame of mind, 
but must follow eagerly ; their imagination must be com- 
pletely suppressed ; no demands must be made upon it ; 
and even what is narrated must be vividly brought be- 
fore their vision, as it were, in terms of action. 




Every one who has concerned himself at all about the 
theory of poetic art — and of tragedy in particular — 
will remember a passage in Aristotle which has caused 
the commentators much difficulty, without their ever 
having been able to convince themselves wholly of its 
meaning. In his definition of tragedy this great writer 
seems to demand of it that, through the representation 
of stirring deeds and events, which should arouse pity 
and fear, the soul of the spectator should be purified 
of these passions. 

My thoughts and convictions in regard to this pas- 
sage I can best impart by a translation of it: — 

'' Tragedy is the imitation of a significant and com- 
plete action, which has a certain extension in time and 
is portrayed in beautiful language by separate indi- 
viduals, each of whom plays a role, instead of having 

1"! have just re-read the Poetics of Aristotle with the great- 
est pleasure; intelligence in its highest manifestation is a fine 
thing. It is really remarkable how Aristotle limits himself 
entirely to experience, and so appears, if perhaps somewhat mate- 
rial, for the most part all the more solid. It was also stimulat- 
ing to me to see with what liberality he always shields the poet 
against the fault-finders and the hypercritical, how he always in- 
sists on essentials, and in everything else is so lax that in more 
than one place I was simply amazed. It is this that makes his 
whole view of poetry, and especially of his favorite forms, so 
vivifying that I shall soon take up the book again, especially 
in regard to some important passages which are not quite clear 
and the meaning of which I wish to investigate further." — Goethe 
to Schiller, April 28, 1797. 


Supplement to Aristotle's Poetics 

all represenied by one person as in the narration of a 
story or epic. After a course of events arousing pity 
and fear, the action closes with the equilibration of 
these* passions." 

In the foregoing translation, I believe I have made 
this hitherto dubious passage clear; it will only be 
necessary to add the following remarks: Could Aris- 
totle, notwithstanding his always objective manner, — 
as, for instance, here, where he seems to be speaking 
exclusively of the technique of tragedy, — ^be really 
thinking of the effect, indeed the distant effect, upon 
the spectator? By no means ! He speaks clearly and 
definitely: When the course of action is one arousing 
pity and fear, the tragedy must close on the stage with 
an equilibration, a reconciliation, of these emotions. 

By " catharsis," hfe understands this reconciling cul- 
mination, which is demanded of all drama, indeed of all 
poetical works. 

This occurs in the tragedy through a kind of human 
sacrifice, whether it be rigidly worked out with the 
death of the victim, or, under the influence of a favor- 
ing divinity, be satisfied by a substitute, as in the case 
of Abraham and Agamemnon. But this reconciliation, 
this release, is necessary at the end if the tragedy is 
to be a perfect work of art. This release, on the other 
hand, when effected through a favorable or desirable 
outcome, rather makes the work resemble an inter- 
mediate species of art, as in the return of Alcestis. In 
comedy, on the contrary, for the clearing up of all 
complications, which in themselves are of little signifi- 
cance from the point of view of arousing fear and hope, 
a marriage is usually introduced; and this, even if it 
does not end life completely, does make in it an impor- 


GoetJie's Literary Essays 

tant and serious break. Nobody wants to die, every- 
body to marry; and in this lies the half- jocose, half- 
serious difference between tragedy and comedy in prac- 
tical eesthetics. 

We shall perceive further that the Greeks did make 
use of their " trilogy " for such a purpose ; for there 
is no loftier " catharsis " than the (Edipus of Kolonus, 
where a half-guilty delinquent, — a man who, through a 
demonic strain in his nature, through the sombre vehe- 
mence as well as greatness of his character, and 
through a headstrong course of action, puts himself at 
the mercy of the ever-inscrutable, unalterable powers, — ■ 
plunges himself and his family into the d*eepest, ir- 
reparable misery, and yet finally, after having made 
atonement and reparation, is raised to the company of 
the gods, as the auspicious protecting spirit of a region, 
revered with special sacrifices and services. 

Here we find the principle of the great master, that 
the hero of a tragedy must be regarded and repre- 
sented neither as wholly guilty nor as wholly innocent. 
In the first case the catharsis would merely result from 
the nature of the story, and the murdered wretch would 
appear only to have escaped the common justice which 
would have fallen upon him anyway by law. In the 
second case, it is not feasible either; for then there 
would seem to fall on human power or fate the weight 
of an all too heavy burden of injustice. 

But on this subject I do not wish to wax polemical, 
any more than on any other ; I have only to point out 
here how up to the present time people have been in- 
clined to put up with a dubious interpretation of this 
passage. Aristotle had said in the Politics that music 
could be made use of in education for ethical pur- 

Supplement to Aristotle's Poetics 

poses, since by means of the sacred melodies the minds 
of those raised to frenzy by the orgies were quieted and 
soothed again ; thus he thought other emotions and pas- 
sions could be calmed and equilibrated. That the argu- 
ment here is from analogous cases we cannot deny ; yet 
we think they are not identical. The effect of music de- 
pends on its particular character, as Handel has 
worked out in his " Alexander's Feast," and as we can 
see evidenced at every ball, where perhaps after a chaste 
and dignified polonaise, a waltz is played and whirls 
the whole company of young people away in a bacchic 

For music, like all the arts, has little power di- 
rectly to influence morality, and it is always 'wrong to 
demand such results from them. Philosophy and Reli- 
gion alone can accomplish this. If piety and duty must 
be stimulated, the arts can only casually effect this 
stimulation. What they can accomplish, however, is 
a softening of crude manners and morals ; yet even this 
may, on the other hand, soon degenerate into effeminacy. 

Whoever is on the path of a truly moral and spir- 
itual self-cultivation, will feel and acknowledge that 
tragedy and tragic romance do not quiet and satisfy 
the mind, but rather tend to unsettle the emotions and 
what we call the heart, and induce a vague, unquiet 
mood. Youth is apt to love this mood and is for that 
reason passionately devoted to such productions. 

We now return to our original point, and repeat: 
Aristotle speaks of the technique of tragedy, in the sense 
that the poet, making it the object of his attention, 
contrives to create something pleasing to eye and lar in 
a course of a completed action. 

If the poet has fulfilled this purpose and his duty 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

on his side, tying together his knots of meaning and 
unraveling them again, the same process will pass be- 
fore the mind of the spectator; the complications will 
perplex him, the solution enlighten him, but he will not 
go home any the better for it all. He will be inclined 
perhaps, if he is given to reflection, to be amazed at 
the state of mind in which he finds himself at home 
again — ^just as frivolous, as obstinate, as zealous, as 
weak, as tender or as cynical as he was when he went 
out. On this point we believe we have said all we can 
until a further working out of the whole subject makes 
it possible to understand it more clearly. 




Now that the German stage, as one of our best na- 
tional institutions, is emerging from an unfortunate 
narrowness and seclusion into freedom and vitality, wise 
directors are exerting themselves to produce an effect 
on a wide public, and not to confine themselves, however 
earnestly, to any single institution. Poets, actors, 
managers, and public will come to a better and better 
mutual understanding, but in the gratification of the 
moment they must not forget what their predecessors 
accomplished. Only upon a repertory which includes 
older plays can a national theatre be founded. I hope 
that the following words will have a favorable reception, 
so that the author's courage will be stimulated and he 
will come forward from time to time with similar sug- 

A Plan of Schiller's, and What Came of It 

When the lamented Schiller, through the influence of 
the court, the solicitations of society, and the incli- 
nations of his friends, was moved to change his place 
of residence from Jena to Weimar, and to renounce that 
seclusion in which until then he had wrapt himself, he 
had the theatre at Weimar particularly in his mind, and 
he decided to devote his attention carefully and closely 
to the productions there. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

And such a narrowing of his field the poet needed, 
for his extraordinary genius from his youth up had 
sought the heights and the depths. The power of his 
imagination, his poetical activity, had led him over a 
great range; but in spite of the ardor with which his 
mind traversed this broad range, with further experience 
it could not escape his clear insight that these quali- 
ties must necessarily lead him astray in the field of the 

At Jena his friends had been witness to the persever- 
ance and resolute determination with which he oc- 
cupied himself with " Wallenstein." This subject, which 
kept expanding at the hands of his genius, was worked 
out, knit together, revised, in numerous ways, until 
he saw at last that it would be necessary to divide 
the piece into three parts, as was thereupon done. And 
afterwards he did not cease to make alterations, in order 
that the principal scenes might acquire all the effect 
that was possible. The result was, however, that the 
Death of Wallenstein was given oftener on all stages 
than the Camp and the Piccolomini. 

Don Carlos had been condensed still earlier for the 
stage; and whoever will compare this play, as it is 
produced, with the earlier printed edition, will recog- 
nize the same laborious changes. For though Schiller 
in sketching out the plan of his work felt bound by no 
limitations, in a later revision for theatrical purposes he 
had the courage, as a result of his convictions, to adapt 
it stringently, yes even mercilessly, to the practical exi- 
gencies of the situation. These meant a definite limita- 
tion of time; all the principal scenes had to pass be- 
fore the eyes of the audience in a certain period of 
time. All the other scenes he omitted, and yet he could 

On The German Theatre 

never really confine himself to the space of .three hours. 

The Robbers, Intrigue and Love, Fiesco, produc- 
tions- of an aggressive youthful impatience and indigna- 
tion at a severe and confining training, had to undergo 
many alterations for the stage-production which was 
eagerly demanded by the public and especially^the young 
men. About them all he would speculate whether it 
was not possible to assimilate them to a more refined 
taste, a taste such as he had trained himself since to 
feel. On this point he was accustomed to take long 
and detailed counsel with himself, in long sleepless 
nights, and sometimes on pleasant evenings in talks 
with his friends. 

Could these discussions and suggestions have been 
preserved by a shorthand writer, we should have pos- 
sessed a noteworthy contribution to productive criti- 
cism. But even more valuable will discerning readers 
find Schiller's own remarks about the projected and 
indeed commenced " Demetrius," which fine example of 
penetrating and critical creative ability is preserved for 
us in the supplement to his works. The three plays 
mentioned above, however, we decided not to touch, for 
what is offensive in them is too closely bound up with 
their contents and form ; and we had to trust to for- 
tune in transmitting them to posterity just as they 
had sprung from a powerful and bizarre genius. 

Schiller, finely matured, had not attended many 
performances, when his active mind, considering the 
situation and taking a comprehensive view of things, 
got the idea that what had been done to his own works 
could be done in the case of other men's. So he drew 
up a plan whereby the work of earlier playwrights might 
be preserved for the German theatre, without prejudice 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

to contemporary writers, — the accepted material, the 
contents of the works chosen, to be adapted to a form 
which should be partly determined by the requirements 
of the stage and partly by the ideas and spirit of the 
present time. For these reasons he decided to devote 
the hours which were left him from his own work to 
constructing plans, in company with congenial friends, 
whereby plays which had a significance for our age 
might be revised, and a true German Theatre founded, — 
not only for the benefit of the reader, who would come 
to know famous plays from a new standpoint, but also 
for the benefit of the numerous theatres of Geraiany, 
which would be given the opportunity of strengthening 
their repertories by laying a soHd foundation of older 
works under the ephemeral productions of the day. 

In order then to found the German Theatre on true 
German soil, it was Schiller's intention to revise Klop- 
stock's Hermanns Schlacht. The play was taktn up, 
but the first consideration of it produced much doubt 
in his mind. Schiller's judgment was in general very 
liberal, but at the same time independent and critical. 
The ideal demands which Schiller a'ccording to his na- 
ture was obliged to make were not satisfied, and the 
piece was soon laid aside. Present-day criticism re- 
quires no hints in order to discover the grounds for 
the decision. 

Towards Lessing's work Schiller had a singular atti- 
tude. He did not care particularly for it,— indeed, 
Emilia Galotti was repugnant to him. Yet this tragedy 
as well as Minna von Barnhelm was accepted in the 
repertory. He then devoted himself to Nathan der 
Weise, and in this revision, in which he was glad to 
have the cooperation of discerning friends, the piece 

On The German Theatre 

is played to this day, and it will be retained on the 
boards, because able actors will always be found who 
feel 'themselves equal to the role of Nathan. And 
may the German public remember always that it 
is called not only to witness this well-known piece, so 
excellently staged, but also to hear it and to under- 
stand it ! May there never come a time when the 
divine spirit of toleration and forbearance contained 
in it will cease to be sacred to the nation. 

The presence of the distinguished Iffland in 1796 
gave occasion for the shortening of Egmont to the form 
in which it is now given here and in several places at 
present. That Schiller rather mutilated it in his revision 
is indicated by a comparison of the following scenes with 
the printed play itself. The public was annoyed at 
the omission of the Princess, for instance; yet there is 
in Schiller's work such a consistency that no one 
has dared to attempt to alter the piece for fear that 
other errors and misadjustments might creep into its 
present form. 


{First Act) 

In an open square, cross-bow shooters. One of Eg- 
mont's men is being elevated to the post of captain, 
through his skill in shooting, and his health and that of 
the lord are being drunk; public affairs are discussed, 
and the characters of distinguished persons. The dis- 
position of the people begins to show itself. Other 
citizens come in; unrest is revealed. A lawyer joins' 
them, and begins to discuss the liberties of the people. 
Dissent and quarrels follow. Egmont enters, quiets 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

his men, and threatens the trouble-maker. He exhibits 
himself as an honored and popular prince. 

(Second Act) 

Egmont and his private secretary, through wnose 
discourse one catches a glimpse of the liberal, inde- 
pendent, audacious spirit of the hero. Orange attempts 
to inculcate caution into his friend, and since word 
has come of the arrival of the Duke of Alva, tries to 
persuade him to flee; but all in vain. 

(Third Act) 

The citizens in fear of the impending danger; the 
lawyer foretells Egmont's fate; the Spanish watch en- 
ters, and the people scatter. 

In a room in one of the houses we find Klaerchen 
thinking of her love for Egmont. She seeks to spurn 
the affection of her lover Brackenburg, then pro- 
ceeds with mingled pleasure and dread to think of 
her relations with Egmont; he enters, and all is 
joy and happiness. ^ 

(Fourth Act) 

The Palace. Alva's character becomes evident 
through his measures. Ferdinand, his natural son, who 
is attracted by the personality of Egmont, is ordered 
to take him prisoner, in order that he himself may 
become accustomed to tyranny. Egmont and Alva 
in conversation; the former frank and open, the latter 
reserved and at the same time tries to irritate Egmont. 
The latter is arrested. 

On The German Theatre 

Brackenburg on the street; twilight. Klaerchen 
wishes to incite the citizens to liberate Egmont, but 
they withdraw in alarm; Brackenburg, alone with 
Klaerchen, attempts to calm her, but in vain. 

(Fifth Act) 

Klaerchen alone in a room. Brackenburg brings the 
news of preparations for Egmont's execution. Klaer- 
chen takes poison, Brackenburg rushes away, the lamp 
goes out, signifying that Klaerchen has passed aw^ay. 

The prison, Egmont alone. The sentence of death 
is announced to him. Scene with Ferdinand, his young 
friend. Egmont, alone, falls asleep. Vision of Klaer- 
chen in the background. He is waked by drums, and 
follows the watch, almost with the air of the com- 
mander himself. 

Concerning the last appearance of Klaerchen, opin- 
ions are divided ; Schiller was opposed to it, the author 
in favor of it; the public will not allow it to be 

Since the present discussion does not attempt to deal 
with plays chronologically but with reference to other 
considerations, and particularly from the standpoint 
of author and adapter, I shall turn next to Stella, 
which also owes its appearance in the theatre to Schiller. 

Since the action of the^piece is unimpassioned and 
smooth, he left it substantiallj un^hangeH7ohly ^s^^ 
ening the dialogue here and there, especially__when it 
seempd to be passing fr om the dramatic to the idyllic 
^aad-jelegiac. For just as there may be too many inci- 
dents in a piece, so there may be too great an expres- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

sion of feeling. So Schiller resist ed the enticemen ts 
of many^charmin^ pass ageFaiid struck them relentlessly 
gut, Well-staged, the piece was presented on January 
15, 1806, for the first time, and repeated. It soon be- 
came^evident that, according to our customs, which are 
founded strictly on monogamy, the relation of a man to 
two wives, especially as it appeared in this play, was not 
to be reconciled, and for that reason was only fit ma- 
terial for tragedy. For that reason the attempt of the 
intelligent Cecilie to harmonize the incongruities proved 
futile. The piece took a tragic turn, and ended in a 
way that satisfied the emotions and elevated the feelings. 

iK<S.t present the piece is quite competently acted, and 
consequently receives the most unqualified applause. 
But a sweeping assurance of this kind can hardly be of 
practical utility to the playhouses which intend to put 
on the piece ; and I therefore add in detail some further 
and necessary considerations. 

L^--^ The role of Fernando every actor, not too young, 
will be glad to undertake, actors, that is, who are fitted 
to heroic or lovers' roles, and they will try to express 
with all the emotion and effect possible, the impas- 
sioned dilemma in which they are placed. 
,^^^-The allotment of the feminine roles is more difficult. 
There are five of them, — carefully differentiated and 
contrasted characters. The actress who undertakes the 
role of Stella must depict to us not only her indestructi- 
ble affection, her passionate love, her glowing enthu- 
siasm, but must also make us share her feeling, and 
carry us along with her. 

^^x^ecilie, who at first appears weak and repressed, must 
soon leave this all behind her, and appear before us as 
a high-spirited heroine of courage and intelligence. 

On The German Theatre 

^^^^^^Juucia. represents a person who in the midst of an 
easy and comfortable life has cultivated her talents 
independently, does not feel the outer pressures which 
force themselves upon her, but rather casts them off. 
Not a trace of priggishness or conceit should appear. 
i^^-'^he postmistress is no quarrelsome old woman, but 
a young, cheerful, active widow, who would like to 
marry again only in order to be better obeyed, 
u^^^nn, if possible, should be acted by a little child. In 
the mouth of a child, if she speaks clearly, the decisive- 
ness of what she has to say sounds extremely well. If 
the proper contrasts and shading are given to all these 
characters, this tragedy will not miss its effect. 

The first act, which portrays external life, should be 
mastered with extraordinary care and thoroughness, 
and even the unimportant incidents ought to betray a 
certain artistic fitness. The sounding of the posthorn 
twice, for instance, produces an agreeable and even 
artistic effect. The steward also should not be im- 
personated by a mediocre but by an excellent actor, 
who will play the role of the kindly old man called to 
a^ lover's aid. 

If one considers the incredible advantage which the 
composer has in being able to indicate in his score all 
his wishes and intentions by a thousand words and signs, 
one will pardon the dramatic poet also if he seeks to 
e njoin up oiL-tbe directors and managers whaTlie holds 
in dispensable for the succe ss of his work. ' 

Die Laune des Verliehten was produced at the thea- 
tre in March, 1805, just when this little piece was forty 
years old. In it everything depends on the role of 
Egle. If a versatile actress can be found who ex- 
presses the character perfectly, then the piece is safe, 


GoeiJie's Literary Essays 

and is witnessed with pleasure. One of our most 
agreeable and charming actresses, who was going to 
Breslau, took it to the theatre there. An ingenious 
writer made use of the idea of the character and com- 
posed several pieces with this motive for the actress. 
Stella is also at present well received in Berlin. 

Here I venture to make an observation which seems 
to me worth c^jpeful consideration on the part of stage- 
managers. \^^ one tries to discover just why certain 
pieces, to which some worth is not to be denied, eitlier 
are never produced or else, even when they make a good 
impression for a time, yet little by little disappear from 
the boards, one will find that the cause lies neither 
with the piece nor with the public, but that tlie neces- 
sary actors are lacking.^ For this reason it is advis- 
able that pieces should not be laid entirely aside or 
dropped from the repertory. Rather let them be kept 
constantly in mind, even if there is no opportunity to 
give them for years. Then when the time comes 
that the roles can be adequately filled again, one 
does not lose the chance of making an excellent im- 

Thus, for instance, the German theatre would ex- 
perience a great change if a figure like the famous 
Seylerin should appear, with a genuine dramatic talent 
trained according to our modern requirements. Speed- 
ily would Medea, Semiramis, Agrippina and other hero- 
ines, which we think of as so colossal, be resurrected 
from the grave; other roles besides would be trans- 
formed. Think only of such a figure as Orsina, and 
Emilia Galotti is quite another play ; the Prince is ex- 
onerated as soon as one realizes that so powerful and 


On The German Theatre 

imperious a person is the encumbrance upon his shoul- 

We turn now to the Mitscliuldigen. That it has a 
certain dramatic value may be inferred from the fact 
that, at a time when all German actors seemed afraid 
of rhythm and rhyme, it was turned into prose and pro- 
duced at the theatre, where it could not maintain itself 
because a principal feature, the poetic rhythm and the 
rhyme, was lacking. But now, when the actors are 
more skilled in both, this attempt could be made. Some 
of its crudities were removed, some archaic touches mod- 
ernized, and thus it continues to hold the boards still 
if the cast is good. It was put on at the same time 
as Die Laune des Verliebten, in March, 1805. Schiller 
made many suggestions for the production, but he did 
not live to see the Raetsel produced in September of 
the same year. This had a great success, but the author 
desired to remain anonymous for a long time. After- 
wards, however, he published a sequel, and the two 
pieces help to support each other. 

Let us not hesitate in the German theatre, where 
there appears so much variety besides, to place side by 
side pieces of similar motive and atmosphere, in order 
that we may at least give a certain breadth to the 
different departments of dramatic production. 

Iphigenia, not without some abbreviation, was put 
on the Weimar stage as early as 1802; Tasso first in 
1807 after a long and quiet preparation. Both plays 
continue to hold the boards, with the support of actors 
and actresses who are exceptionally excellent and well 
adapted to the roles. 

Finally we shall mention Goetz von Berlichingen, 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

which was produced for the first time in September, 
1804. Although Schiller himself would not undertake 
this new revision, he cooperated in every possible way, 
and was able by his bold resolution to facilitate for 
the author many a point of revision; from the be- 
ginning to the final production he was most influential 
and effective both in word and deed. Since it is pro- 
duced at few theatres, it may be worth while to relate 
here briefly the action of the piece, and to point out in 
general the principles according to which this revision 
was made. 

Goetz von Berlichingen 
{First Act) 

By the insults which are accorded his servants by 
some peasants in the inn at Bamberg, we learn of the 
hostility between Goetz and the Bishop. Some horse- 
men in the service of this knight enter and relate that 
Weislingen, the Bishop's right-hand man, is in the neigh- 
borhood. They hurry away to notify their master. 

Goetz appears in front of a hut in the woods, alert 
and listening. A stable-boy, George, declares himself 
a future hero. Brother Martin expresses envy of the 
soldiers, husband, and father. The servants come in 
with the news, Goetz hastens away, and the boy is 
quieted by the present of a saint's picture. 

At Jaxthausen, Goetz's castle, we find his wife, sis- 
ter and son. The former exhibits herself as a capable 
noblewoman, the latter as a tender-hearted woman, 
the son as rather eff'eminate. Faud brings word that 
Weislingen is captured and Goetz is bringing him in. 
The women go out; the two knights enter; by Goetz's 

On The German Theatre 

frank demeanor and the narration of old stories, 
Weislingen's heart is touched. Maria and Karl come 
in; the child invites them to sit down at table, Maria 
asks them to be friends. The knights give each other 
their hands, Maria stands between them. 

(Second Act) 

Maria and Weislingen enter. They have become 
lovers. Goetz and Elizabeth appear; they are all 
busy with hopes and plans. Weislingen is happy in 
his new situation. Franz, Weislingen's lad, comes from 
Bamberg and awakes old memories; he also draws a 
picture of the dangerous Adelaide of Walldorf. His 
passion for this lady is not to be mistaken, and we 
begin to fear that he will carry away his master 
with him. 

Hans von Selbitz comes in, representing himself to 
the Lady Elizabeth as a merry knight-errant. Goetz 
gives him welcome. The news that merchants from 
Nuremberg are passing by to the fair is brought in; 
they go out. In the forest w^e find the merchants from 
Nuremberg; they are fallen upon and robbed. Through 
George, Goetz learns that Weislingen has left him. 
Goetz is inclined to work off his chagrin on the cap- 
tured merchants, but he is moved to give back a jewel- 
box which a lover is taking to his mistress; for Goetz 
thinks with sadness how he must break the news to his 
sister of the loss of her betrothed. 

(Third Act) 

Two merchants appear in the pleasure-gardens at 
Augsburg. Maximilian, vexed, refuses to see them. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Weislingen encourages them, and makes use of the op- 
portunity to influence the Emperor against Goetz and 
other unruly knights. 

Here the relations between Weislingen and his wife 
Adelaide develop; she compels him unconditionally to 
promote her ambitions. The growing passion of Franz 
for her, the wanton arts used to seduce him, become 

We now return to Jaxthausen. Sickingen woos 
Maria. Selbitz brings the news that Goetz is declared 
an outlaw. They seize weapons. Lerse is announced; 
Goetz receives him joyfully. 

We are now on a mountain; wide view, ruined tower, 
castle and rocks. A gipsy family is here seeking pro- 
tection from the dangers of the military campaign and 
the unrest of the country. They serve to give coher- 
ence to the following scenes. The captain of the Im- 
perial troops enters, gives his orders, makes himself 
comfortable. The gipsies cajole him. George comes sud- 
denly upon the summit ; Selbitz is brought in wounded, 
having been attacked by servants of the Emperor, and 
rescued by Lerse. He is visited by Goetz. 

{Fourth Act) 

Jaxthausen. Maria and Sickingen, with them the 
victorious Goetz. He is afraid that he will be sur- 
rounded. Maria and Sickingen are married ; Goetz 
persuades them to leave the castle. Summons, a siege, 
brave resistance, the family table once more; Lerse 
brings news of a capitulation ; treachery. 

Wcislingen's and Adelaide's dwelling in Augsburg. 
Night. Adelaide's masked ball. It is noticeable that 

On The German Theatre 

the Archduke is her centre of interest at this occasion; 
but she is able to silence the jealous Franz and use him 
for her purposes. 

Tavern at Heilbronn. The Town Hall there. 
Goetz's daring and boldness. Sickingen releases him. 
The familiar scenes are left in. 

(Fifth Act) 

A wood. Goetz and George Ijing in wait for a wild 
animal. It is painfully evident out here that Goetz 
cannot cross his boundaries. We realize the mischief 
of the peasant war. The monster advances; Max 
Stumpf, whom they have dragged along with them 
as a guide and leader, decides to leave them and the 
position. Goetz, half persuaded, half compelled, yields, 
announces himself as their captain for four weeks and 
breaks his ban. The peasants are divided in spirit, and 
the devil is loose. 

Weislingen appears at the head of knights and sol- 
diers against the rebels, in order especially to capture 
Goetz, and thus free himself from the hateful feeling 
of inferiority. Relations with his wife are very 
strained; Franz's overwhelming passion becomes more 
and more evident. Goetz and George in the painful 
situation of being associated and implicated with rebels. 

A secret judgment is issued against him. Goetz 
flees to the gipsies and is captured by the Imperial 

Adelaide's palace. The adventuress parts with the 
happy youth, after she has prevailed upon him to bring 
poison to her husband. An apparition appears ; a 
powerful scene follows. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

From these dismal surroundings, we pass to a bright 
spring garden. Maria is sleeping in a bower of flow- 
ers. Lerse comes to her, and rouses her to beg Weis- 
lingen for her brother's life. 

Weislingen's palace. The dying man, with Maria 
and Franz. Goetz's sentence to death is revoked, and 
we leave the dying hero in the prison garden. 

The principles of the earlier revisions were again ap- 
plied in this case. The number of scene-changes was 
lessened, securing more opportunity for the develop- 
ment of the characters, the action was condensed, and, 
though with many sacrifices, the play finally approxi- 
mated genuine dramatic form. Why it has not in this 
form spread more widely on the German stage will 
be eventually understood, I presume, since critics are 
not disinclined to give accounts of the reception on 
the stage of the plays of the various German authors, 
the treatment they receive and the length of time their 
pieces last. 

If these remarks are favorably received, we shall 
probably discuss next the introduction of foreign plays, 
such as has already taken place at the Weimar Theatre. 
This includes Greek and French, English, Italian and 
Spanish plays, besides the comedies of Terence and 
Plautus, in which masks are made use of. 

Most necessary would it be perhaps to discuss Shake- 
speare and combat the prejudice that the works of 
this extraordinary writer should be given in the Ger- 
man Theatre in their complete length and breadth. 
This false idea has meant the suppression of the older 
revisions of Schroeder, and prevented others from 

On The German Theatre 

It must be emphatically insisted, and with solid rean 

son, that in this case as in so many others the r eader 

,,^^-^ niust be d istinguished from and fiarL gompanywitT EEe 

s^^ectator ; each has hi s rights^ _and neither- sliould. be 

permitted to injure the other's. 




My mind has been stimulated in many ways by tMs 
noteworthy book. 

As a dramatic poet, as a writer who by extensive 
travels and by personal observation and study of for- 
eign theatres has qualified himself as a critic of in- 
sight and knowledge in connection wdth our native 
theatre, and as one who by scholarly study has fitted 
himself to be a historian of past and present times, the 
author has an assured position with the German pub- 
lic, which is here especially evident and notable. In 
h im, criticism res ts upon pleasure, pleasure upon knowl- 
e(Igej_andthese criteria, which are usually thought of 
as distinct, are h ere^used into a s atlsFy ing whole. 

His reverence for Kleist is highly praiseworthy. As 
far as I am personally concerned, in spite of the sin- 
cerest desire to appreciate him justly, Kleist always 
arouses in me horror and aversion, as of a body in- 
tended by nature to be beautiful, but seized by an in- 
curable illness. Tieck is the very reverse ; he dwells 
rather upon the good that has been left by nature; 
the deformity he puts aside, excusing much more than 
he blames. For, after all, this man of genius deserves 
only our pity; on this point we do reach agreement. 
^ I also agree with him willingly when, as champion 
for the jinityj iTidivisibility^jLndLLoviplabil ity of Shake- 
126 ^ ^ 

Ludwig T tech's Dramaturgic Fi^agments 

sReare^s^gla^, he wants to have them put on the stage 
without revision or modification from_&egi^]mg~Io end. 
^/["When ten years ago I was of the contrary opinion, 
and made more than one attempt to select only the 
particularly effective parts of Shakespeare's plays, 
rejecting the disturbing and the diffuse, I was quite 
right, as director of the theatre, in doing so. For I 
had had experience in tormenting myself and the actors 
for the space of a month, and of finally putting on a 
production which indeed entertained and aroused admi- 
ration, but which on account of conditions hardly pos- 
sible to fulfil moTe than once, could not maintain its 
place in the repertory. Still I am perfectly willing 
that such attempts should here and there be made, for, 
on the whole, failure does no harm^ 

Since men are not to get rid of longing and aspi- 
ration, it is salutary for them to direct their un- 
satisfied idealism towards some definite object, to work, 
for instance, towards depicting a mighty though van- 
ished past seriously and worthily in the present. Now 
actors as well as poets and readers have the oppor- 
tunity to study and see Shakespeare, and, through their 
endeavors to attain the unattainable, disclose the true 
inner capabilities and potentialities of their own nature. 

Though in these respects I completely approve of 
the valuable efforts of my old co-worker, I must confess 
that I differ from him in some of his utterances; as, 
for instance, that " Lady Macbeth is a tender, loving 
soul, and as such should be played." I do not consider 
such remarks to be really the author's opinion, but 
rather paradoxes, which in view of the weighty au- 
thority of our author can only work great harm. 

It is in the nature of the case, and Tieck himself 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

has presented significant illustrations of the fact, that 

'^n a ctor who does not feel himself to be quite in agree- 

ment— RJtL thp__con_Yen tional po rtravalTmay in clever 

fashion modify and adjust it to himseTPandTiTs "own 

naturepand fUTlie new interpretation so well as to 

provide, as it were, a new and brilliant crea tion, and 

^ indemniTy us for the clever fiction witli unexpecTed~afnd 

^>>^ delightful new grounds of comparison and contrast. 

This we must admit as valid; but we cannot approve 
the case where the theorist makes certain intimations 
to the actor, whereby the latter is led astray to por- 
tray thi^ ^le in a new ma nn er and style againsF^ the 
ob vious intention o f the poet. 

From many viewpoints such an undertaking is ques- 
tionable. The public is looking for authority always ; 
and it is right. For do we not act similarly in taking 
counsel in joy and sorrow with those who are well versed 
in the wisdom of art and of life? Whoever then has 
acquired any legitimate authority in any field should 
strive, by continual assiduity in holding close to the 
line of the true and the right, to preserve that authority 
in inviolable sanctity. 

An important paper is Tieck's explanation of the 
Piccolamini and the Wallenstein, I saw these plays 
develop from beginning to end, and I am filled with 
admiration at the degree of penetration which he shows 
in treating a work which, although one of the most 
excellent not only on the German stage but on all 
stages, yet in itself is unequal, and for that reason 
often fails to satisfy the critic, although the crowd, 
which does not take the separate parts with such strict- 
ness, is necessarily charmed with it as a whole. 

Most of the places where Tieck finds something to 

Ludwig Tiech's Dramaturgic Fragments 

criticize, I find reason to consider as pathological. If 
SchiUer had not been suffering from a long wasting 
disease, which finally killed him, the whole thing would 
have been different. Our correspondence, which relates 
in the clearest way the circumstances under which 
Wallenstein was written, will stimulate thoughtful 
people to much profitable reflection, and persuade them 
to think ever more seriously how closely our jcsthetics 
is connected with physiology, pathology, and physics: 
in this way they may realize the light which these sci- 
ences throw upon the conditions to which individuals 
as well as whole nations, the most extensive world- 
epochs as well as daily affairs, are subjected. 




Didactic poetry is not a distinct poetic style or 
genre in the same sense as the lyric, epic, and dramatic. 
Every one will understand this who recognizes that the 
latter differ in form, and therefore didactic poetry, 
which derives its name from its content, cannot be put 
in the same category. 

All poetry should be instructive, but unobviously so. 
It should draw the attention of a reader to the idea 
which is of value to be imparted; but he himself must 
draw the lesson out of it, as he does out of life. 

Didactic or schoolmasterly poetry is a hybrid be- 
tween poetry and rhetoric. For that reason, as it ap- 
proximates now one and now the other, it is able to 
possess more or less of poetic value. But, like descrip- 
tive and satirical poetry, it is always a secondary and 
subordinate species, which in a true aesthetic is always 
placed between the art of poetry and the art of speech. 
The intrinsic worth of didactic poetry, that is to 
say, of an edifying art-work, written with charm and 
vigor, and graced with rhythm and melody and the 
ornament of imaginative power, is for that reason in 
no way lessened. From the rhymed chronicles, from 
the verse-maxims of the old pedagogues, down to the 
best of this class, all have their value, considered in 
their place and taken at their proper worth. 

On Didactic Poetry 

If one examines the matter closely and without preju- 
dice, it strikes one that didactic poetry is valuable 
for the sake of its popular appeal. Even the most 
talented poet should feel himself honored to have treated 
in this style a chapter of useful knowledge. The Eng- 
lish have some highly praiseworthy examples of this 
style. With jest and seriousness they curry favor with 
the crowd, and then discuss in explanatory notes what- 
ever the reader must know in order to understand the 
poem. The teacher in the field of aesthetics, ethics, or 
history has a fine chance to systematize and clarify this 
chapter and acquaint his students with the merit of the 
best works of this kind, not according to the utility of 
their contents, but with reference to the greater or less 
degree of their poetical value. 

This subject should properly be quite omitted from 
a course on aesthetics, but for the sake of those who 
have studied poetry and rhetoric, it might be presented 
in special lectures, perhaps public. Here a true com- 
prehension, as everywhere, will prove of great advan- 
tage to practice; for many people will grasp the diffi- 
culty of weaving together a piece out of knowledge and 
imagination, of binding two opposed elements together 
into a living bodily whole. The lecturer should reveal 
the means by which this reconciliation can be made, and 
his auditors, thereby guarded against mistakes, might 
each attempt in his own way to produce a similar effect. 

Among the many ways and means of effecting such 
a fusion, good humor is the most certain, and could 
also be considered the most suitable, were pure humor 
not so rare. 

No more singular undertaking could easily be thought 
of than to turn the geology of a district into a didactic, 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

and indeed highly imaginative, poem; yet this is what 
a member of the Geological Society of London has done, 
in an attempt to popularize in this way a subject, and 
promote a study usually insufferable to the thought 
of travelers. 



Superstition is the poetry of life ; both build an imag- 
inary world, and between the things of the actual, pal- 
pable world they anticipate the most marvelous con- 
nections. Sympathy and antipathy govern everywhere. 
Poetry is ever freeing itself from such fetters as it 
arbitrarily imposes upon itself; superstition, on the 
contrary, can be compared to the magic cords which 
draw together ever the tighter, the more one struggles 
against them. The time of greatest enlightenment is 
not secure from it ; let it strike an uncultured century 
or epoch, and the clouded mind of poor humanity be- 
gins to strive after the impossible, to endeavor to have 
intercourse with and influence the supernatural, the 
far-distant, the future. A numerous world of marvels 
it constructs for itself, surrounded with a circle of dark- 
ness and gloom. Such clouds hang over whole cen- 
turies, and grow thicker and thicker. The imagination 
broods over a waste of sensuality ; reason seems to have 
turned back like Astraea to its divine origin ; wisdom is 
in despair, since she has no means of successfully assert- 
ing her rights. Superstition does not harm the poet, 
for he knows how to make its half-truths, to which he' 
gives only a literary validity, count in manifold ways 
for good. 


I (1817) 
A WEALTH of terms for unfavorable criticism: — 

A. abandonnee, absurde, arrogance, astuce. 

B. bafoue, bete, betise, bouffissure, bouquin, bour- 

geois, boursouflure, boutade, brise, brutalite. 

C. cabale, cagot, canaille, carcan, clique, contraire, 


D. declamatoire, decrie, degout, denigrement, de- 

pourvu, deprave, desobligeant, detestable, di- 
abolique, dur. 

E. echoppe, enflure, engouement, ennui, ennuyeux, 

enorme, entortille, ephemeres, epluclie, espece, 

F. factice, fadaise, faible, faineant, fane, fasti- 

dieux, fatigant, fatuite, faux, force, fou, 
fourre, friperie, frivole, furieux. 

G. gate, gauchement, gaudier, grimace, grossier, 


H. haillons, honnetemcnt, bonte, horreur. 
I. imbecile, impertinence, impertinent, impuissant, 
incorrection, indecis, indetermine, indifference, 
indignites, inegalite, inguerissable, insipide, 
insipidite, insoutenable, intolerant, jouets, ir- 

L. laquais, leger, lesine, louche, lourd. 

M. maladresse, manque, maroud, mauvais, mediocre, 
mepris, meprise, mignardise, mordant. 

The Methods of French Criticism 

N. neglige, negligence, noirceur, non-soin. 

0. odieux. 

P.. passable, pauvrete, penible, petites-maisons, peu- 

propre, pie-grieche, pitoyable, plat, platitude, 

pompeux, precieux, puerilites. 
R. rapsodie, ratatine, rebattu, rechauffe, redon- 

dance, retreci, revoltant, ridicule, roquet. 
S. sans succes, sifflets, singerie, somnifere, sopo- 

rifique, sottise, subalteme. 
T. terrasse, tombee, trainee, travers, triste. 
V. vague, vexe, vide, vieillerie, volumineux. 

A scanty store for praise: — 

A. anime, applaudie. 

B. brillant. 

C. cliarmant, correct. 

E. esprit. 

F. facile, finesse. 

G. gout, grace, gracieux, grave. 

1. invention, justesse. 
L. leger, legerete, libre. 
N. nombreux. 

P. piquant, prodigieux, pur. 

R. raisonnable. 

S. spirituel. 

V. verve. 

" Words are the image of the soul ; yet not an image, 
but rather a shadow! Expressing roughly, and signi- 
fying gently, all that we have, all that we have had 
in our experience! What was, — where has it gone? 
and what is that which is with us now "^ Ah ! we speak ! 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Swiftly we catch and seize the gifts of life as they fleet 
by us." 

The insight and character of a man express them- 
selves most clearly in his judgments. In what he re- 
jects, and what he accepts, he confesses to what is 
alien to him and what he has need of ; and so each year 
designates unconsciously its present spiritual state, the 
compass of its past life. 

Thus is it also with nations ; their praise and censure 
must always be strictly consonant to their situation. 
We possessed Greek and Roman terminology of this 
sort ; the foregoing would give an occasion for examin- 
ing recent criticism. Like the individual man, the na- 
tion rests on traditional ideas, foreign more often than 
native, both inherited and original. But only in so far 
as a people has a native literature can it judge and 
understand the past as it does the present. The Eng- 
lishman clings earnestly and stubbornly to classic an- 
tiquity, and will not be convinced that the Orient has 
produced poets, unless he can be shown parallel pas- 
sages from Horace. What advantages, on the other 
hand, Shakespeare's independent genius has brought to 
the nation can hardly be expressed. 

The French by the introduction of badly understood 
classical principles and an over-nice sense of form so 
constrained their poetry that it must finally quite dis- 
appear, since it could not become more similar to prose. 
The German was on the right road and will find it again, 
as soon as he gives up the unhappy attempt to rank the 
Nibelungen with the Iliad. 

The favorable opinion which an excellent foreign 
writer has concerning us Germans may be appropriately 

Tlie Methods of French Criticism 

related here. The Privy Councilor of the Russian 
Empire, Count Uvaroff, speaks thus in our honor, in a 
preface addressed to an old friend and partner, and 
contained in his valuable work on Nonnus of Panopolis, 
the Poet (St. Petersburg, 1817) : " The renaissance of 
archaeology belongs to the Germans. Other peoples 
may have contributed preparatory work, but if the 
more advanced philological studies are ever developed 
to a complete whole, such a palingenesis or regen- 
eration could only take place in Germany. For this 
reason, certain new views can hardly be expressed in 
any other language, and on that account I have writ- 
ten in German. I hope we have now given up the per- 
verse notion of the political preeminence of this or that 
language. It is time that every one, unconcerned about 
the instrument itself, should select the language which 
fits most closely the circle of ideas in which his thought 
is moving." 

Here speaks an able, talented, intellectual man, whose 
mind is above the petty limitations of a cold literary 
patriotism, and who, like a master of musical art, draws 
the stops of his well-equipped organ which express the 
thought and feeling of each moment. Would that all 
cultivated Germans would take thankfully to heart 
these excellent and instructive words of his, and that 
intellectual youths would be inspired to make themselves 
proficient in several languages, as optional instru- 
ments of life! 

II (1820) 

In my article on " Urteilsworte franzoslscher Kriti- 
ker," a large number of unfavorable epithets used by 
French critics were set off against a scanty number of 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

favorable words. In connection with this, the Vrai 
Liberal of February 4, 1819, lodges a complaint against 
me and accuses me of an injustice towards the French 
nation. It does this with so much civility and charm as 
to make me ashamed of myself, were it not for the fact 
that behind my presentation of those words there lay a 
secret, which I hasten to reveal to it and to my readers 
at this time. 

I admit without hesitation that the Brussels corre- 
spondent of the Vrai Liberal is quite right when he 
points out how among the words of censure which 
I gave there appear many peculiar ones which one 
would not exactly expect; and in addition, that in 
the list of favorable words, several are lacking 
which ought to occur to every one. In order 
to explain this, and make the story clearer, I shall re- 
late how I was induced to make this particular list. 

When Herr von Grimm forty years ago achieved an 
honorable entrance into Parisian society, at that time 
extraordinarily talented and intellectual, and was rec- 
ognized practically as a member of this distinguished 
company, he decided to send a written bulletin of liter- 
ary and other interesting matters to princely personages 
and wealthy people in Germany, in order to entertain 
them, for a considerable remuneration, with the char- 
acteristic life of Paris circles, in regard to which they 
were curious in the outside world, because they could 
well consider Paris as the centre of the cultured world. 
These letters were to contain not merely news ; but the 
best works of Diderot, The Nun, Jacques the Fatalist, 
etc., were by degrees inserted in such small portions 
that curiosity, attention, and eagerness were kept alive 
from number to number. 

The Methods of Ft^ench Criticism 

Through the favor of distinguished patrons I was 
permitted to peruse these bulletins regularly, and I did 
not neglect to study them with great deliberation and 
ardor. Now, if I may be permitted to say it to my 
credit, I always cheerfully recognized the superiority 
of the writers and their works, treasured and ad- 
mired them, and also thankfully profited by them. For 
this reason I was soon struck in this correspond- 
ence of Grimm's with the fact that in the stories, anec- 
dotes, delineation of character, description, criticism, 
one noticed more of censure than of praise, more de- 
rogatory than laudatory terminology. One day in good 
humor, for my own consideration and edification, I be- 
gan to take down the complete expressions, and later, 
half in jest and half in earnest, to split them up and 
arrange them alphabetically; and thus they remained 
on my desk for many years. 

When finally the correspondence of Grimm was pub- 
lished, I read it as the document of a past age, but 
with care, and soon came upon many an expression 
which I had noticed before; and I was convinced 
anew that the censure by far exceeded the praise. Then 
I hunted up the earlier work of mine and had it 
printed, for the sake of intellectual edification, which 
did not fail me. At the moment I was not able to give 
further attention to the matter; and it is therefore not 
unlikely that in so voluminous a work many a word of 
praise and blame that has escaped me may be found. 

But in order that this reproach, which appeared 
to concern a whole nation, may not be left clinging to 
a single author, I shall reserve the privilege of dis- 
cussing this important literary topic on more general 
lines in the near future. 




Criticism is either destructive or constructive. The 
former is very easy; for one need only set up some 
imaginary standard, some model or other, however fool- 
ish this may be, and then boldly assert that the work 
of art under consideration does not measure up to that 
standard, and therefore is of no value. That settles 
\ the matter, and one can without any more ado declare 
that the poet has not come up to one's requirements. 
In this way the. critic frees himself of all obligations 
of gratitude toward the artist. 

Constructive criticism is much harder. It asks: 
What did the author set out to do? Was his plan 
reaso^iable and sensible, and how far did he succeed 
in carrying it out? If these questions are answered 
with discernment and sympathy, we may be of real as- 
sistance to the author in his later works, for even in 
his first attempts he has undoubtedly taken certain pre- 
liminary steps which approach the level of our criti- 

Perhaps we should call attention to another point 
which is altogether too frequently overlooked, namely, 
that the critic must j udge a work of art more for the 
,,gLaJie-of the author than of_the public!^ Every Hay we 
see how, without the least regard for the opinions of 

On Criticism 

reviewers, some drama or novel is received by men 
and women in the most divers individual ways, is 
prai&ed, found fault with, given or refused a place in 
the heart, merely as it happens to appeal to the per- 
sonal idiosyncrasy of each reader. 

^^"^^^ Criticism is a practice of the Moderns. What does 
this mean? Just this: If you read a book and let it 
work upon you, and yield yourself up entirely to its 
influence, then, and only then, will you arrive at a 
correct judgment of it. 


Some of my admiring readers have told me for a long 

time that i nstead o f pxprpssin^r a. pif^gmpnt r>nh""ks, 
I desc ribe the influence which they have had on m e. 
And at bottom this is the way all readers criticize, 
even if they do not communicate an opinion or for- 
mulate ideas about it to the public. The scholar finds 
nothing new in a book, and therefore cannot praise 
it, while the young student, eager for knowledge, finds 
that knowledge increased, and a stimulus given to his 
culture. The one is stirred, while the other remains 
cold. This explains why the reception of books is so 


I am more and more convinced that whenever one 
has to express an opinion on the actions or on the 
writings of others, unless this be done from a certain 
one-sided enthusiasm, or from a loving interest in the 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

person and the work, the result is hardly worth consid- 
ering. J^yTTTTp^lby ^^^ p^J03^m^^t ir je hat__we_see ar e 
ip fact the o nly reality ; and from such reality, reality 
as a nat ural product follo ws^ All else is vanity. 





WiLHELM had scarcely read one or two of Shake- 
speare's plays, till their effect on him became so strong, 
that he could go no farther. His whole soul was in 
commotion. He sought an opportunity to speak with 
Jarno; to whom, on meeting with him, he expressed 
his boundless gratitude for such delicious entertain- 

" I clearly enough foresaw," said Jarno, ^^ that you 
would not remain insensible to the charms of the most 
extraordinary and most admirable of all writers." 

" Yes," exclaimed our friend, " I cannot recollect 
that any book, any man, any incident of my life, has 
produced such important effects on me, as the precious 
works to which by your kindness I have been directed. 
They seem as if they were perfoi:mances of some celes- 
tial genius, descending among men, to make them, by 
the mildest instructions, acquainted with themselves. 
They are no fictions ! You would think, while reading 
them, you stood before the unclosed awfulBooks of Fate, 
while the whirlwind of most impassioned life was howl- 
ing through the leaves, and tossing them fiercely to and 
fro. The strength and tenderness, the power and 
peacefulness, of this man, have so astonished and 
transported me, that I long vehemently for the time 
when I shall have it in my power to read farther." 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

" Bravo ! " said Jarno, holding out his hand, and 
squeezing our friend's. " This is as it should be ! And 
the consequences, which I hope for, will likewise surely 

" I wish," said Wilhelm, " I could but disclose to 
you all that is going on within me even now. All the 
anticipations I ever had regarding man and his des- 
tiny, which have accompanied me from youth upwards, 
often unobserved by myself, I find developed and ful- 
filled in Shakespeare's writings. It seems as if he 
cleared up every one of our enigmas to us, though we 
cannot say. Here or there is the word of solution. His 
men appear like natural men, and yet they are not. 
These, the most mysterious and complex productions 
of creation, here act before us as if they were watches, 
whose dial plates and cases were of crystal, which 
pointed out, according to their use, the course of the 
hours and minutes ; while, at the same time, you could 
discern the combination of wheels and springs that 
turned them, r^he few glances I have cast over Shake- 
speare's world incite me, more than anything beside, 
to quicken my footsteps forward into the actual world, 
to mingle in the flood of destinies that is suspended over 
it, and at length, if I shall prosper, to draw a few cups 
from the great ocean of true nature, and to distribute 
them from off the stage among the thirsting people of 
my native land." . . . 

Seeing the company so favorably disposed, Wilhelm 
now hoped he might further have it in his power to 
converse with them on the poetic merit of the plays 
which might come before them. " It is not enough," 
said he next day, when they were all again assembled, 

Wilhelm Meister's Critique of ''Hamlet" 

" for the actor merely to glance over a dramatic work, 
to judge of it bj his first impression, and thus, with- 
out investigation, to declare his satisfaction or dis- 
satisfaction with it. Such things may be allowed in 
a spectator, whose purpose it is rather to be enter- 
tained and moved than formally to criticize. But the 
actor, on the other hand, should be prepared to give 
a reason for his praise or censure; and how shall he 
do this, if he have not taught himself to penetrate 
the sense, the views, the feelings of his author? A com- 
mon error is to form a judgment of a drama from a 
single part in it, and to look upon this part itself 
in an isolated point of view, not in its connection with 
the whole. I have noticed this within a few days so 
clearly in my own conduct that I will give you the 
account as an example, if you please to hear me 

" You all know Shakespeare's incomparable Hamlet; 
our public reading of it at the castle yielded every one 
of us the greatest satisfaction. On that occasion we 
proposed to act the play; and I, not knowing what I 
undertook, engaged to play the prince's part. This I 
conceived that I was studying, while I began to get 
by heart the strongest passages, the soliloquies, and 
those scenes in which force of soul, vehemence and ele- 
vation of feeling have the freest scope, where the agi- 
tated heart is allowed to display itself with touching 

" I further conceived that I was penetrating quite 
into the spirit of the character, while I endeavored, as 
it were, to take upon myself the load of deep melan- 
choly under which my prototype was laboring, and in 
this humor to pursue him through the strange laby- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

rinths of his caprices and his singularities. Thus learn- 
ing, thus practising, I doubted not but I should by and 
bye become one person with my hero. 

" But the farther I advanced, the more difficult 
did it become for me to form any image of the whole, 
in its general bearings; till at last it seemed as if im- 
possible. I next went through the entire piece, with- 
out interruption; but here, too, I found much that I 
could not away with. At one time the characters, 
at another time the manner of displaying them, seemed 
inconsistent; and I almost despaired of finding any 
general tint, in which I might present my whole part 
with all its shadings and variations. In such devious 
paths I toiled, and wandered long in vain ; till at length 
a hope arose that I might reach my aim in quite a 
new way. 

" I set about investigating every trace of Hamlet's 
character, as it had shown itself before his father's 
death; I endeavored to distinguish what in it was inde- 
pendent of this mournful event, independent of the 
terrible events that followed; and what most probably 
the young man would have been had no such thing oc- 

" Soft, and from a noble stem, this royal flower had 
sprung up under the immediate influences of majesty: 
the idea of moral rectitude with that of princely eleva- 
tion, the feeling of the good and dignified with the 
consciousness of high birth, had in him been unfolded 
simultaneously. He was a prince, by birth a prince; 
and he wished to reign, only that good men might be 
good without obstruction. Pleasing in form, polished 
by nature, courteous from the heart, he was meant to 
be the pattern of youth and the joy of the world. 

Wilhelm Meister's Critique of ''Hamleif' 

" Without any prominent passion, his love for 
Opheha was a still presentiment of sweet wants. His 
zeal in knightly accomplishments was not entirely his 
own: it needed to be quickened and inflamed by praise 
bestowed on others for excelling in them. Pure in sen- 
timent, he knew the honorable-minded, and could prize 
the rest which an upright spirit tastes on the bosom 
of a friend. To a certain degree he had learned to 
discern and value the good and the beautiful in arts 
and sciences; the mean, the vulgar, was offensive to 
him; and, if hatred could take root in his tender soul, 
it was only so far as to make him properly despise 
the false and changeful insects of a court, and play 
with them in easy scorn. He was calm in his temper, 
artless in his conduct, neither pleased with idleness, 
nor too violently eager for employment. The routine 
of a university he seemed to continue when at court. 
He possessed more mirth of humor than of heart: he 
was a good companion, pliant, courteous, discreet, and 
able to forget and forgive an injury, yet never able 
to unite himself with those who overstepped the limits 
of the right, the good, and the becoming. 

"When we read the piece again, you shall judge 
whether I am yet on the proper track. I hope at least 
to bring forward passages that shall support my opin- 
ion in its main points." 

This delineation was received with warm approval; 
the company imagined they foresaw that Hamlet's man- 
ner of proceeding might now be very satisfactorily ex- 
plained; they applauded this method of penetrating 
into the spirit of a writer. Each of them proposed to 
himself to take up some piece, and study it on these 
principles, and so unfold the author's meaning. . . . 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Loving Shakespeare as our friend did, he failed not 
to lead round the conversation to the merits of that 
dramatist. Expressing, as he entertained, the live- 
liest hopes of the new epoch which these exquisite pro- 
ductions must form in Germany, he erelong introduced 
his Hamlet, which play had busied him so much of late. 

Serlo declared that he would long ago have repre- 
sented the play had it at all been possible, and that he 
himself would willingly engage to act Polonius. He 
added, with a smile, " An Ophelia, too, will certainly 
turn up, if we had but a Prince." 

Wilhelm did not notice that Aurelia seemed a little 
hurt at her brother's sarcasm. Our friend was in his 
proper vein, becoming copious and didactic, expound- 
ing how he would have Hamlet played. He circum- 
stantially delivered to his hearers the opinions we 
before saw him busied with; taking all the trouble 
possible to make his notion of the matter acceptable, 
skeptical as Serlo showed himself regarding it. " Well, 
then," said the latter finally, " suppose we grant you 
all this, what will you explain by it.? " 

" Much, everything," said Wilhelm. " Conceive a 
prince such as I have painted him, and that his father 
suddenly dies. Ambition and the love of rule are not 
the passions that inspire him. As a king's son, he 
would have been contented; but now he is first con- 
strained to consider the difference which separates a 
sovereign from a subject. The crown was not heredi- 
tary; yet his father's longer possession of it would 
have strengthened the pretensions of an only son, 
and secured his hopes of succession. In place of this, 
he now beholds himself excluded by his uncle, in spite 
of specious promises, most probably forever. He is 

Wilhelm Meister's Critique of ''Hamlet" 

now poor in goods and favor, and a stranger in the 
scene which from youth he had looked upon as his 
inheritance. His temper here assumes its first mourn- 
ful tinge. He feels that now he is not more, that he is 
less than a private nobleman; he offers himself as the 
servant of every one ; he is not courteous and con- 
descending, he is needy and degraded. 

" His past condition he remembers as a vanished 
dream. It is in vain that his uncle strives to cheer him, 
to present his situation in another point of view. The 
feeling of his nothingness will not leave him. 

" The second stroke that came upon him wounded 
deeper, bowed still more. It was the marriage of his 
mother. The faithful, tender son had yet a mother, 
when his father passed away. He hoped in the com- 
pany of his surviving noble-minded parent, to rever- 
ence the heroic form of the departed: but his mother, 
too, he loses ; and it is something worse than death 
that robs him of her. The trustful image, which a 
good child loves to form of its parents, is gone. With 
the dead there is no help, on the living no hold. More- 
over, she is a woman ; and her name is Frailty, like 
that of all her sex. 

" Now only does he feel completely bowed down, now 
only orphaned ; and no happiness of life can repay 
what he has lost. Not reflective or sorrowful by 
nature, reflection and sorrow have become for him a 
heavy obligation. It is thus that we see him first enter 
on the scene. I do not think that I have mixed aught 
foreign with the play, or overcharged a single feature 
of it." 

Serlo looked at his sister, and said : " Did I give thee 
a false picture of our friend? He begins well: he has 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

still many things to tell us, many to persuade us of." 
Wilhelm asseverated loudly that he meant not to per- 
suade, but to convince ; he begged for another moment's 

" Figure to yourselves this youth," cried he, " this 
son of princes ; conceive him vividly, bring his state 
before your eyes and then observe him when he learns 
that his father's spirit walks ; stand by him in the 
terrors of the night, when even the venerable ghost 
appears before him. He is seized with boundless hor- 
ror ; he speaks to the mysterious form ; he sees it beckon 
him; he follows and hears. The fearful accusation of 
his uncle rings in his ears, the summons to revenge, 
and the piercing, oft-repeated prayer, Remember me ! 

" And, when the ghost has vanished, who is it that 
stands before us? A young hero panting for venge- 
ance? A prince by birth, rejoicing to be called to 
punish the usurper of his crown? No! trouble and 
astonishment take hold of the solitary young man: he 
grows bitter against smiling villains, swears that he 
will not forget the spirit, and concludes with the sig- 
nificant ejaculation, — 

"'The time is out of joint: O cursed spite. 
That ever I was born to set it right!' 

" In these words, I imagine, will be found the key to 
Hamlet's whole procedure. To me it is clear that 
Shakespeare meant, in the present case, to represent 
the effects of a great action laid upon a soul unfit for 
the performance of it. In this view the whole play 
seems to me to be composed. There is an oak-tree 
planted in a costly jar, which should have borne only 
pleasant flowers in its bosom: the roots expand, the 
jar is shivered. 

Wilhelm Meister's Critique of ''Hamlet" 

*' A lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature, with- 
out the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks be- 
neath a burden it cannot bear and must not cast away. 
All duties are holy for him: the present is too hard. 
Impossibilities have been required of him, — not in them- 
selves impossibilities, but such for him. He winds and 
turns, and torments himself; he advances and recoils; 
is ever put in mind, ever puts himself in mind, at last 
does all but lose his purpose from his thoughts, yet 
still without recovering his peace of mind." 

Several people entering interrupted the discussion. 
They were musical dilettanti, who commonly assembled 
at Serlo's once a week, and formed a little concert. 
Serlo himself loved music much: he used to maintain 
that a player without taste for it never could attain 
a distinct conception and feeling of the scenic art. " As 
a man performs," he would observe, " with far more 
ease and dignity when his gestures are accompanied and 
guided by a tune ; so the player ought, in idea as it 
were, to set to music even his prose parts, that he may 
not monotonously slight them over in his individual 
style, but treat them in suitable alternation by time 
and measure." 

Aurelia seemed to give but little heed to what was 
passing: at last she conducted Wilhelm to' another 
room; and going to the window, and looking out at 
the starry sky, she said to him, " You have more to 
tell us about Hamlet : I will not hurry you, — my brother 
must hear it as well as I ; but let me beg to know your 
thoughts about ^Ophelia." 

" Of her there cannot much be said," he answered ; 
" for a few master-strokes complete her character. The 
whole being of Ophelia floats in sweet and ripe sensa- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

tion. Kindness for the prince, to whose hand she may 
aspire, flows so spontaneously, her tender heart obeys 
its impulses so unresistingly, that both father and 
brother are afraid: both give her warning harshly and 
directly. Decorum, like the thin lawn upon her bosom, 
cannot hide the soft, still movements of her heart: it, 
on the contrarj^, betrays them. Her fancy is smit; 
her silent modesty breathes amiable desire; and if the 
friendly goddess Opportunity should shake the tree, 
its fruit would fall." 

" And then," said Aurelia, " when she beholds herself 
forsaken, cast away, despised; when all is inverted in 
the soul of her crazed lover, and the highest changes 
to the lowest, and, instead of the sweet cup of love, 
he offers her the bitter cup of woe — " 

" Her heart breaks," cried Wilhelm ; " the whole 
structure of her being is loosened from its joinings: her 
father's death strikes fiercely against it, and the fair 
edifice altogether crumbles into fragments." 

Serlo, this moment entering, inquired about his sis- 
ter, and, looking in the book which our friend had 
hold of, cried, " So you are again at Hamlet? Very 
good ! Many doubts have arisen in me, which seem not 
a little to impair the canonical aspect of the play as 
you would have it viewed. The English themselves 
have admitted that its chief interest concludes with 
the third act; the last tw^o lagging sorrily on, and 
scarcely uniting with the rest: and certainl}^ about the 
end it seems to stand stock-still." 

" It is very possible," said Wilhelm, " that some in- 
dividuals of a nation, which has so many masterpieces 
to feel proud of, may be led by prejudice and nar- 
rowness of mind to form false judgments; but this 

Wilhelm Meistei^'s Critique of "Hamlef 

cannot hinder us from looking with our own eyes, and 
doing justice where we see it due. I am very far from 
censuring the plan of Hamlet: on the other hand, I 
believe there never was a grander one invented ; nay, 
it is not invented, it is real." 

" How do you demonstrate that? " inquired Serlo. 

" I will not demonstrate anything," said Wilhelm ; 
" I will merely show you what my own conceptions of 
it are." 

Aurelia raised herself from her cushion, leaned upon 
her hand, and looked at Wilhelm, who, with the firmest 
assurance that he was in the right, went on as follows : 
" It pleases us, it flatters us, to see a hero acting on 
his own strength, loving and hating at the bidding 
of his heart, undertaking and completing casting every 
obstacle aside, and attaining some great end. Poets 
and historians would willingly persuade us that so 
proud a lot may fall to man. In Hamlet we are taught 
another lesson; the hero is without a plan, but the 
play is full of plan. Here we have no villain punished 
on some self-conceived and rigidly accomplished scheme 
of vengeance. A horrid deed is done ; It rolls along with 
all its consequences, dragging with it even the guilt- 
less : the guilty perpetrator would, as it seems, evade the 
abyss made ready for him; yet he plunges in, at the 
very point by which he thinks he shall escape and hap- 
pily complete his course. 

" For it is the property of crime to extend its mis- 
chief over innocence, as it is of virtue to extend its 
blessings over many that deserve them not ; while fre- 
quently the author of the one or the other Is not 
punished or rewarded at all. Here in this play of ours, 
how strange ! The Pit of darkness sends its spirit and 


Goetlie's Literary Essays 

demands revenge : in vain ! All circumstances tend one 
way, and hurry to revenge : in vain ! Neither earthly 
nor infernal thing may bring about what is reserved 
for Fate alone. The hour of judgment comes; the 
wicked falls with the good; one race is mowed away, 
that another may spring up." 

After a pause, in which they looked at one an- 
other, Serlo said, " You pay no great compliment to 
Providence, in thus exalting Shakespeare; and be- 
sides, it appears to me, that for the honor of your poet, 
as others for the honor of Providence, you ascribe to 
him an object and a plan such as he himself has never 
thought of." 

" Let me also put a question," said Aurelia. " I 
have looked at Ophelia's part again: I am contented 
with it, and confident that, under certain circumstances, 
I could play it. But tell me, should not the poet have 
furnished the insane maiden with another sort of songs ? 
Could not some fragments out of melancholy ballads be 
selected for this purpose? Why put double meanings 
and lascivious insipidities in the mouth of this noble- 
minded girl? " 

" Dear friend," said Wilhelm, " even here I cannot 
yield you one iota. In these singularities, in this ap- 
parent impropriety, a deep sense is hid. Do we not 
understand from the very first what the mind of the 
good, soft-hearted girl was busied with? Silently she 
lived within herself, yet she scarce concealed her wishes, 
her longing: and how often may she have attempted, 
like an unskilful nurse, to lull her senses to repose 
with songs which only kept them more awake? But 
at last, when her self-command is altogether gone, when 
the secrets of her heart are hovering on her tongue, 

Wilhelm Meistefs Critique of ''Hamlet" 

that tongue betrays her; and in the innocence of in- 
sanity she solaces herself, unmindful of king or queen, 
with .the echo of her loose and well-beloved songs, — ' To- 
morrow is Saint Valentine's Day,' and ' By Gis and by 
Saint Charity.' . . ." 

" I must admit your picture of Ophelia to be just," 
continued she ; " I cannot now misunderstand the ob- 
ject of the poet: I must pity; though, as you paint her, 
I shall rather pity her than sympathize with her. But 
allow me here to offer a remark, which in these few 
days you have frequently suggested to me. I observe 
with admiration the correct, keen, penetrating glance 
with which you judge of poetry, especially dramatic 
poetry : the deepest abysses of invention are not hidden 
from you, the finest touches of representation cannot 
escape you. Without ever having viewed the objects 
in nature, you recognize the truth of their images : there 
seems, as it were, a presentiment of all the universe to 
lie in you, which by the harmonious touch of poetry is 
awakened and unfolded. For in truth," continued she, 
" from without, you receive not much : I have scarcely 
seen a person that so little knew, so totally misknew, 
the people he lived with, as you do. Allow me to say 
it: in hearing you expound the mysteries of Shake- 
speare, one would think you had just descended from 
a synod of the gods, and had listened there while they 
were taking counsel how to form men; in seeing you 
transact with your fellows, I could imagine you to be 
the first large-born child of the Creation, standing 
agape, and gazing with strange wonderment and edify- 
ing good nature at lions and apes and sheep and ele- 
phants, and true-heartedly addressing them as your 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

equals, simply because they were there, and in motion 
like yourself." 

" The feeling of my ignorance in this respect," said 
Wilhelm, " often gives me pain ; and I should thank 
you, worthy friend, if you would help me to get a 
little better insight into life. From youth, I have 
been accustomed to direct the eyes of my spirit inwards 
rather than outwards ; and hence it is very natural that, 
to a certain extent, I should be acquainted with man, 
while of men I have not the smallest knowledge. . . ." 

One of the conditions under which our friend had 
gone upon the stage was not acceded to by Serlo with- 
out some limitations. Wilhelm had required that Ham- 
let should be played entire and unmutilated: the other 
had agreed to this strange stipulation, in so far as it 
was possible. On this point they had many a contest ; 
for as to what was possible or not possible, and what 
parts of the piece could be omitted without mutilating 
it, the two were of very different opinions. 

Wilhelm was still in that happy season when one 
cannot understand how, in the woman one loves, in the 
writer one honors, there should be anything defective. 
The feeling they excite in us is so entire, so accordant 
with itself, that we cannot help attributing the same 
perfect harmony to the objects themselves. Serlo 
again was willing to discriminate, perhaps too willing: 
his acute understanding could usually discern in any 
work of art nothing but a more or less imperfect whole. 
He thought that, as pieces usually stood, there was 
little reason to be chary about meddling with them; 
that of course Shakespeare, and particularly Hamlet^ 
would need to suffer much curtailment. 

Wilhelm Meistefs Critique of ^'Hamlef 

But, when Serlo talked of separating the wheat from 
the chaff, Wilhelm would not hear of it. " It is not 
chaff* and wheat together," said he: " it is a trunk with 
boughs, twigs, leaves, buds, blossoms, and fruit. Is not 
the one there with the others, and by means of them? " 
To which Serlo would reply that people did not bring 
a whole tree upon the table ; that the artist was re- 
quired to present his guests with silver apples in plat- 
ters of silver. They exhsTusted their invention in simili- 
tudes, and their opinions seemed still farther to diverge. 

Our friend was on the borders of despair when on 
one occasion, after much debating, Serlo counseled him 
to take the simple plan, — to make a brief resolution, to 
grasp his pen, to peruse the tragedy ; dashing out what- 
ever would not answer, compressing several personages 
into one : and if he was not skilled in such proceedings, 
or had not heart enough for going through with them, 
he might leave the task to him, the manager, who would 
engage to make short work with it. 

** That is not our bargain," answered Wilhelm. 
" How can you, with all your taste, show so much 

" My friend," cried Serlo, " you yourself will ere- 
long feel it and show it. I know too well how shock- 
ing such a mode of treating works is : perhaps it never 
was allowed on any theatre till now. But where, indeed, 
was ever one so slighted as ours? Authors force us on 
this wretched clipping system, and the public tolerates 
it. How many pieces have we, pray, which do not 
overstep the measure of our numbers, of our decora- 
tions and theatrical machinery, of the proper time, of 
the fit alternation of dialogue, and the physical strength 
of the actor? And yet we are to play, and play, and 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

constantly give novelties. Ought we not to profit by 
our privilege, then, since we accomplish just as much 
by mutilated works as by entire ones ? It is the public 
itself that grants the privilege. Few Germans, perhaps 
few men of any modern nation, have a proper sense of 
an aesthetic whole : — they praise and blame by passages ; 
they are charmed by passages ; and who has greater 
reason to rejoice at this than actors, since the stage 
is ever but a patched and piece-work matter? " 

"Is!" cried Wilhelm ; "but must it ever be so? 
Must everything that is continue? Convince me not 
that you are right, for no power on earth should force 
me to abide by any contract which I had concluded 
with the grossest misconceptions." 

Serlo gave a merry turn to the business, and per- 
suaded him to review once more the many conversations 
they had had together about Hamlet^ and himself to 
invent some means of properly reforming the piece. 

After a few days, which he had spent alone, our 
friend returned with a cheerful look. " I am much 
mistaken," cried he, " if I have not now discovered 
how the whole is to be managed: nay, I am convinced 
that Shakespeare himself would have arranged it so, 
had not his mind been too exclusively directed to the 
ruling interest, and perhaps misled by the novels which 
furnished him with his materials." 

" Let us hear," said Serlo, placing himself with an 
air of solemnity upon the sofa : " I will listen calmly, 
but judge with rigor." 

" I am not afraid of you," said Wilhelm ; " only hear 
me. In the composition of this play, after the most 
accurate investigation and the most mature reflection, 
I distinguish two classes of objects. The first are 

Wilhelm Meister^s Critique of ^'Hamleif' 

the grand internal relations of the persons and events, 
the powerful effects which arise from the characters 
and proceedings of the main figures : these, I hold, are 
individually excellent ; and the order in which they are 
presented cannot be improved. No kind of interfer- 
ence must be suffered to destroy them, or even essen- 
tially to change their form. These are the things which 
stamp themselves deep into the soul, which all men long 
to see, which no one dares to meddle with. Accordingly, 
I understand, they have almost wholly been retained 
in all our German theatres. But our countrymen have 
erred, in my opinion, with regard to the second class 
of objects, which may be observed in this tragedy: I 
allude to the external relations of the persons, whereby 
they are brought from place to place, or combined in 
various ways, by certain accidental incidents. These 
they have looked upon as very unimportant; have 
spoken of them only in passing, or left them out alto- 
gether. Now, indeed, it must be owned, these threads 
are slack and slender; yet they run through the entire 
piece, and bind together much that would otherwise fall 
asunder, and does actually fall asunder, when you cut 
them off, and imagine you have done enough and more, 
if you have left the ends hanging. 

" Among these external relations I include the dis- 
turbances in Norw^ay, the war with young Fortinbras, 
the embassy to his uncle, the settling of that feud, the 
march of young Fortinbras to Poland, and -his coming 
back at the end; of the same sort are Horatio's return 
from Wittenberg, Hamlet's wish to go thither, the 
journey of Laertes to France, his return, the despatch 
of Hamlet into England, his capture by pirates, the 
death of the two courtiers by the letter which they 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

carried. All these circumstances and events would be 
very fit for expanding and lengthening a novel; but 
here they injure exceedingly the unity of the piece, 
particularly as the hero has no plan, and are, in con- 
sequence, entirely out of place." 

" For once in the right ! " cried Serlo. 

" Do not interrupt me," answered Wilhelm ; " per- 
haps you will not always think me right. These errors 
are like temporary props of an edifice: they must not 
be removed till we have built a firm wall in their stead. 
My project, therefore, is not at all to change those first- 
mentioned grand situations, or at least as much as pos- 
sible to spare them, both collectively and individually; 
but with respect to these external, single, dissipated, 
and dissipating motives, to cast them all at once away, 
and substitute a solitary one instead of them." 

" And this ? " inquired Serlo, springing up from his 
recumbent posture. 

" It lies in the piece itself," answered Wilhelm, " only 
I employ it rightly. There are disturbances in Nor- 
way. You shall hear my plan, and try it. 

" After the death of Hamlet's father, the Nor- 
wegians, lately conquered, grow unruly. The viceroy 
of that country sends his son, Horatio, an old school- 
friend of Hamlet's, and distinguished above every other 
for his bravery and prudence, to Denmark, to press for- 
ward the equipment of the fleet, which, under the new 
luxurious king, proceeds but slowly. Horatio has 
known the former king, having fought in his battles, 
having even stood in favor with him, — a circumstance 
by which the first ghost-scene will be nothing injured. 
The new sovereign gives Horatio audience and sends 
Laertes into Norway with intelligence that the fleet 

Wilhelm Meister's Critique of ''Hamlef 

will soon arrive; whilst Horatio is commissioned to 
accelerate the preparation of it: and the Queen, on 
the ather hand, will not consent that Hamlet, as he 
wishes, should go to sea along with him." 

" Heaven be praised ! " cried Serlo ; " we shall now 
get rid of Wittenberg and the university, which was 
always a sorry piece of business. I think your idea 
extremely good; for, except these two distant objects, 
Norway and the fleet, the spectator will not be re- 
quired to fancy anything: the rest he will see; the rest 
takes place before him; whereas his imagination, on 
the other plan, was hunted over all the world." 

" You easily perceive," said Wilhelm, " how I shall 
contrive to keep the other parts together. When Ham- 
let tells Horatio of his uncle's crime, Horatio counsels 
him to go to Norway in his company, to secure the 
affections of the army, and return in warlike force. 
Hamlet also is becoming dangerous to the King and 
Queen ; they find no readier method of deliverance than 
to send him in the fleet, with Roscncrantz and Guilden- 
stern to be spies upon him ; and, as Laertes in the mean- 
time comes from France, they determine that this youth, 
exasperated even to murder, shall go after him. Un- 
favorable winds detain the fleet : Hamlet returns ; for 
his wandering through the churchyard, perhaps some 
lucky motive may be thought of; his meeting with 
Laertes in Ophelia's grave is a grand moment, which 
we must not part with. After this, the King resolves 
that it is better to get quit of Hamlet on the spot: 
the festival of his departure, the pretended reconcile- 
ment with Laertes, are now solemnized ; on which occa- 
sion knightly sports are held, and Laertes fights with 
Hamlet. Without the four corpses, I cannot end the 


Goethe^s Literary Essays 

play : no one must survive. The right of popular elec- 
tion now again comes in force ; and Hamlet, while dying, 
gives his vote to Horatio." 

" Quick ! quick !" said Serlo, " sit down and work 
the play: your plan has my entire approbation; only 
let not your zeal evaporate." 

Wilhelm had already been for some time busied with 
translating Hamlet; making use, as he labored, of Wie- 
land's spirited performance, through which he had first 
become acquainted with Shakespeare. What had been 
omitted in Wieland's work he replaced, and had se- 
cured a complete version, at the very time when Serlo 
and he were pretty well agreed about the way of treat- 
ing it. He now began, according to his plan, to cut 
out and insert, to separate and unite, to alter, and 
often to restore ; for, satisfied as he was with his own 
conception, it still appeared to him as if, in executing 
it, he were but spoiling the original. 

When all was finished, he read his work to Serlo 
and the rest. They declared themselves exceedingly 
contented with it : Serlo, in particular, made many flat- 
tering observations. 

"You have felt very justly," said he, among other 
things, " that some external circumstances must accom- 
pany this play, but that they must be simpler than 
those which the great poet has employed. What takes 
place without the theatre, what the spectator does not 
see but must imagine, is like a background, in front 
of which the acting figures move. Your large and sim- 
ple prospect of the fleet and Norway will do much to 
improve the play: if this were altogether taken from 
it, we should have but a family scene remaining; and 

Wilhelm M cisterns Critique of "Hamlef 

the great idea that here a kingly house, by internal 
crimes and incongruities, goes down to ruin, would 
not be* presented with its proper dignity. But if the 
former background were left standing, so manifold, so 
fluctuating and confused, it would hurt the impression 
of the figures." 

AVilhelm again took Shakespeare's part; alleging 
that he wrote for islanders, for Englishmen, who gener- 
ally in the distance were accustomed to see little else 
than ships and voyages, the coast of France and priva- 
teers ; and thus what perplexed and distracted others 
was to them quite natural. 

Serlo assented ; and both were of opinion that, as the 
play was now to be produced upon the German stage, 
this more serious and simple background was the best 
adapted for the German mind. 

The parts had been distributed before: Serlo under- 
took Polonius ; Aurelia, Ophelia ; Laertes was already 
designated by his name; a young, thick-set, jolly new- 
comer was to be Horatio ; the King and Ghost alone 
occasioned some perplexity, for both of these no one 
but Old Boisterous remaining. Serlo proposed to make 
the Pedant, King; but against this our friend pro- 
tested in the strongest terms. They could resolve on 

Wilhelm had also allowed both Rosencrantz and 
Guildenstern to continue in his play. " Why not com- 
press them into one.^" said Serlo. "This abbrevia- 
tion will not cost you much." 

" Heaven keep me from all such curtailments ! " an- 
swered Wilhelm ; " they destroy at once the sense and 
the effect. What these two persons are and do it is 
impossible to represent by one. In such small mat- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

ters we discover Shakespeare's greatness. These s 
approaches, this smirking and bowing, this assenting, 
wheedling, flattering, this whisking agihty, this wagging 
• of the tail, this allncss and emptiness, this legal knav- 
ery, this ineptitude and insipidity, — how can they be 
expressed by a single man? There ought to be at least 
a dozen of these people, if they could be had ; for it is 
only in society that they are anything; they are so- 
ciety itself; and Shakespeare showed no little wisdom 
and discernment in bringing in a pair of them. Be- 
sides, I need them as a couple that may be contrasted 
with the single, noble, excellent Horatio. . . ." 

Though in this remolding of Hamlet many charac- 
ters had been cut off, a sufficient number of them still 
remained, — a number which the company was scarcely 
adequate to meet. 

" If this is the way of it," said Serlo, " our prompter 
himself must issue from his den, and mount the stage, 
and become a personage like one of us. , . ." 

" The very man ! " exclaimed our friend, " the very 
man ! What a fortunate discovery ! We have now the 
proper hand for delivering the passage of ' The rugged 
Pyrrhus.' " 

" One requires your eagerness," said Serlo, " before 
he can employ every object in the use it was meant 

" In truth," said Wilhelm, " I was very much afraid 
we should be obliged to leave this passage out: the 
omission would have lamed the whole play." 

" Well ! That is what I cannot understand," ob- 
served Aurelia. 

Wilhehn Meister's Critique of ''Hamlet" 

" I hope you will erelong be of my opinion," an- 
swered Willielm. " Shakespeare has introduced these 
traveling players with a double purpose. The person 
who recites the death of Priam with such feeling, in 
the -first place, makes a deep impression on the prince 
himself; he sharpens the conscience of the wavering 
youth: and, accordingly, this scene becomes a prelude 
to that other, where, in the second place, the little play 
produces such effect upon the King. Hamlet sees him- 
self reproved and put to shame by the player, who feels 
so deep a sympathy in foreign and fictitious woes; and 
the thought of making an experiment upon the con- 
science of his stepfather is in consequence suggested to 
him. What a royal monologue is that which ends the 
second act ! How charming it will be to speak it ! 

" * Oh, what a rogue and peasant slave am I ! 
Is it not monstrous that this player here. 
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion. 
Could force his soul so to his own conceit. 
That, from her working, all his visage wann'd; 
Tears in his eyes, distraction in's aspect, 
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting 
With forms to his conceit? and all for nothing! 
For Hecuba! 

What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba, 
That he should weep for her ?'"... 

In particular, one evening, the manager was very 
merry in speaking of the part of Polonius, and how he 
meant to take it up. " I engage," said he, " on this 
occasion, to present a very meritorious person in his 
best aspect. The repose and security of this old gen- 
tleman, his emptiness and his significance, his exterior 
gracefulness and interior meanness, his frankness and 
sycophancy, his sincere roguery and deceitful truth, I 
will introduce with all due elegance in their fit propor- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

tions. This respectable, graj-haired, enduring, time- 
serving half-knave, I will represent in the most courtly 
style: the occasional roughness and coarseness of our 
author's strokes will further m.e here. I will speak like 
a book when I am prepared beforehand, and like an 
ass when I utter the overflowings of my heart. I will 
be insipid and absurd enough to chime in with every 
one, and acute enough never to observe when people 
make a mock of me. I have seldom taken up a part 
with so much zeal and roguishness." 

" Could I but hope as much from mine ! " exclaimed 
Aurclia. " I have neither youth nor softness enough to 
be at home in this character. One thing alone I am 
too sure of, — the feeling that turns Ophelia's brain, 
I shall not want." 

" We must not take the matter up so strictly," said 
our friend. " For my share, I am certain that the 
wish to act the character of Hamlet has led me ex- 
ceedingly astray throughout my study of the play. 
And now, the more I look into the part, the more clearly 
do I see that, in my whole form and physiognomy, there 
is not one feature such as Shakespeare meant for Ham- 
let. When I consider with what nicety the various cir- 
cumstances are adapted to each other, I can scarcely 
hope to produce even a tolerable effect." 

" You are entering on your new career with be- 
coming conscientiousness," said Serlo. " The actor 
fits himself to his part as he can, and the part to him 
as it must. But how has Shakespeare drawn his Ham- 
let? Is he so utterly unlike you? " 

" In the first place," answered Wilhelm, " he is fair- 

Wilkehn Meistefs Critique of ''Hamlef 

" That I call far-fetched," observed Aurelia. " How 
do jou infer that? " 

" As a Dane, as a Northman, he is fair-haired and 
blue-eyed by descent." 

"And 3'OU think Shakespeare had this in view?" 

" I do not find it specially expressed ; but, by com- 
parison of passages, I think it incontestable. The fenc- 
ing tires him ; the sweat is running from his brow ; and 
the Queen remarks, ' He's fat, and scant of breath.* 
Can you conceive him to be otherwise than plump and 
fair-haired? Brown-complexioned people, in their 
3^outh, are seldom plump. And does not his wavering 
melancholy, his soft lamenting, his irresolute activity, 
accord with such a figure? From a dark-haired young 
man, you would look for more decision and impetu- 

" You are spoiling my imagination," cried Aurelia ; 
" away with your fat Hamlets ! Do not set your well- 
fed prince before us ! Give us rather any succedanewm 
that will move us, will delight us. The intention of the 
author is of less importance to us than our own en- 
joyment, and we need a charm that is adapted for 

One evening a dispute arose among our friends about 
the novel and the drama, and which of them deserved 
the preference. Serlo said it was a fruitless and mis- 
understood debate: both might be superior in their 
kinds, only each must keep within the limits proper 
to it. 

" About their limits and their kinds," said Wilhelm, 
'' I confess myself not altogether clear." 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

" Who is so ? " said the other ; " and yet perhaps it 
were worth while to come a little closer to the busi- 

They conversed together long upon the matter; and, 
in fine, the following was nearly the result of their 
discussion : — 

" In the novel as well as in the drama, it is human 
nature and human action that we see. The difference 
between these sorts of fiction lies not merely in their 
outward form, — not merely in the circumstance that 
the personages of the one are made to speak, while those 
of the other have commonly their history narrated. 
Unfortunately many dramas are but novels which pro- 
ceed by dialogue; and it would not be impossible to 
write a drama in the shape of letters. 

" But, in the novel, it is chiefly sentiments and events 
that are exhibited; in the drama, it is characters and 
deeds. The novel must go slowly forward; and the 
sentiments of the hero, by some means or another, must 
restrain the tendency of the whole to unfold itself and 
to conclude. The drama, on the other hand, must 
hasten ; and the character of the hero must press for- 
ward to the end : it does not restrain, but is restrained. 
The novel-hero must be suffering, — at least he must not 
in a high degree be active ; in the dramatic one, we look 
for activity and deeds. Grandison, Clarissa, Pamela, 
the Vicar of Wakefield, Tom Jones himself, are, if not 
suffering, at least retarding, personages ; and the in- 
cidents are all in some sort modeled by their sentiments. 
In the drama the hero models nothing by himself; all 
things withstand him ; and he clears and casts away the 
hindrances from off his path, or else sinks under 

Wilhelm Meister's Critique of '"Hamlef" 

Our friends were also of opinion that, in the novel, 
some degree of scope may be allowed to Chance, but 
that. it must always be led and guided by the senti- 
ments of the personages ; on the other hand, that Fate, 
which, by means of outward, unconnected circum- 
stances, proceeds to an unforeseen catastrophe, can 
have place only in the drama ; that Chance may produce 
pathetic situations, but never tragic ones ; Fate, on the 
other hand, ought always to be terrible, — and is, in the 
highest sense, tragic, when it brings into a ruinous con- 
catenation the guilty man and the guiltless that was un- 
concerned with him. 

These considerations led them back to the play of 
Hamlet, and the peculiarities of its composition. The 
hero in this case, it was observed, is endowed more prop- 
erly with sentiments than with a character : it is events 
alone that push him on, and accordingly the play has 
in some measure the expansion of a novel. But as it is 
Fate that draws the plan, as the story issues from a 
deed of terror, the work is tragic in the highest sense, 
and admits of no other than a tragic end. . . . 

The necessary preparations for scenery and dresses, 
and whatever else was requisite, were now proceeding. 
In regard to certain scenes and passages, our friend 
had whims of his own, which Serlo humored, partly in 
consideration of their bargain, partly from conviction, 
and because he hoped by these civilities to gain Wil- 
helm, and to lead him according to his own purposes 
the more implicitly in time to come. 

Thus, for example, the King and Queen were, at the 
first audience, to appear sitting on the throne, with 
the courtiers at the sides, and Hamlet standing undis- 


Goethe^s Literary Essays 

tinguished in the crowd. " Hamlet," said he, " muso 
keep himself quiet ; his sable dress will sufficiently point 
him out. He should rather shun remark than seek it. 
Not tiU the audience is ended, and the King speaks 
with him as with a son, should he advance, and allow 
the scene to take its course." 

A formidable obstacle remained, in regard to the two 
pictures which Hamlet so passionately refers to in the 
scene with his mother. " We ought," said Wilhelra, 
" to have both of them visible, at full length, in the bot- 
tom of the chamber, near the main door ; and the former 
king must be clad in armor, like the Ghost, and hang 
at the side where it enters. I could wish that the figure 
held its right hand in a commanding attitude, were 
somewhat turned away, and, as it were, looked over its 
shoulder, that so it might perfectly resemble the Ghost 
at the moment when he issues from the door. It will 
produce a great effect when at this instant Hamlet 
looks upon the Ghost, and the Queen upon the picture. 
The stepfather may be painted in royal ornaments, but 
not so striking." 

There were several other points of this sort, about 
which we shall, perhaps, elsewhere have opportunity 
to speak. 

" Are you, then, inexorably bent on Hamlet's dying 
at the end? " inquired Serlo. 

" How can I keep him alive," said Wilhelm, " when 
the whole play is pressing him to death? We have al- 
ready talked at large on that matter." 

" But the public wishes him to live." 

" I will show the public any other complaisance; but, 
as to this, I cannot. We often wish that some gallant, 
useful man, who is dying of a chronic disease, might 

Wilhelm Meister's Critique of ''Hamlef 

yet live longer. The family weep, and conjure the phy- 
sician; but he cannot stay him: and no more than this 
physician can withstand the necessity of nature, can 
we give law to an acknowledged necessity of art. It 
is a false compliance with the multitude, to raise in them 
emotions which they wish, when these are not emotions 
which they ought, to feel." 

" Whoever pays the cash," said Serlo, " may require 
the ware according to his liking." 

" Doubtless, in some degree," replied our friend ; 
" but a great public should be reverenced, not used as 
children are when peddlers wish to hook the money 
from them. By presenting excellence to the people, 
you should gradually excite in them a taste and feel- 
ing for the excellent; and they will pay their money 
with double satisfaction when reason itself has noth- 
ing to object against this outlay. The public you may 
flatter, as you do a well-beloved child, to better, to 
enlighten it; not as you do a pampered child of qual- 
ity, to perpetuate the error you profit from." 

In this manner various other topics were discussed 
relating to the question, What might still be changed 
in the play, and what must of necessit}^ remain un- 
touched .^^ We shall not enter farther on those points 
at present ; but, perhaps, at some future time we may 
submit this altered Hamlet itself to such of our readers 
as feel any interest in the subject. 




There has already been so much said about Shake- 
speare that it would seem as if there was nothing left 
to say ; and yet it is the characteristic of genius ever 
to be stimulating other men's genius. In the present 
case I wish to consider Shakespeare Trom more than 
"^JL-H"^^^ "^ view, — first as a poe t in geneFah then i n 
comparison with the classic and modern writers, and 
fi nal!T~a^~a~writeT~'ot^op tic drmTva^ 1 shall attempt 
to work out W'hat the imitation of his art has meant 
to us, and what it can mean in the future. I shall 
express my agreement with what has been written by 
reiterating it, and express my dissent briefly and posi- 
tively, without involving myself in conflict and con- 
tradiction. I proceed to the first topic. 

7. Shakespeare as Poet in General 

The highest achievement possible to a man is the 
full consciousness of his own feelings and thoughts, for 
this gives him the means of knowing intimately the 
hearts of others. Now there are men who are born 
with a natural talent for thrs and who cultivate it by 
experience towards practical ends. From this talent 
springs the ability to profit in a higher sense by the 
world and its opportunities. Now the poet is born with 

Shakespeare ad infinitum 

the same talent, only he cultivates it not for his immedi- 
ate worldly purposes but for a loftier spiritual and uni- 
versal purpose. If jve callShakespeare one of the greatf"'''^ 
est poets, we mean that few have perceived the world 
as accurai^jy^aiIEe5_that_f^ 

inner contemplation of it havp^ivoTi thg^r eadrr deepe r 
insight into its meaning and consci o usne ss. It be- 
comes for us completely transparent: we find ourselves 
at once in the most intimate touch with virtue and vice, 
greatness and meanness, nobility and infamy, and all 
this through the simplest of means. If we ask what 
these means are, it seems as if they were directed to- 
wards our visual apprehension. But w^e are mistaken; 
Shake speare's w^orks are not for the'phygicai'T i^ioB. 
I ^hall attemp tto explain what I mean. 

The eye^ the mosFTacile of our organs of receptivity, 
may well be called the clearest of the senses ; but the 
in ner sense is still clearer7^Ji3~ionri5yjm£ans__p^ 
belongs the most sensitive and clear receptivity. This 
is particularly obvfous whTn~wHat we apprehend with 
the eye seems alien and unimpressive considered in and 
for itself. But Shakespeare speaks always to our inner ^...^'^^ 
sense.^ Through this, the picture-world of imagination 
becomes animated, and a complete effect results, of 
which we can give no reckoning. Preciselj^ here lies 
the ground for the illusion that everything is taking 
place before our eyes. But if we study the works of 
Shakespeare enough, we find that they contain much 
more of spiritual truth than of spectacular action. He 
makes happen what can easily be conceived by the imag- 

jiation, indeed what can be better imagined than seen. 

^jHamlet's ghost, Macbeth's witches, many fearful inci- 
dents, g et their value only throu gh the power of the 
" ' "■ ~~~~ 175 

Goethe's Literary Essays 

imagination, and many of the minor scenes get their 
fo rce from the same sou ri^e. / J^n reading", all these TFungs 
pass easily through our mmds, and seem quite appro- 
priate, whereas in representation on the stage they 
would strike us unfavorably and appear not only un- 
pleasant but even disgusting. 

Shakespeare gets his effect by means of the living 
word, and it is for this reason that one should hear 
him read, for then the attention is not distracted either 
by a too adequate or a too inadequate stage-setting. 
There is no higher or purer pleasure than to sit with 
^^ closed eyes and hejLr__a^ naturally expressively oice__re- 
c^Jgi^not declaim, a play of Shakespeare's. Accord- 
ing to the delineation of the characters we can picture 
to ourselves certain forms, but more particularly are 
we able by the succession of words and phrases to learn 
what is passing in their souls ; the characters seem to 
have agreed to leave us in the dark, in doubt, about 
nothing. To that end conspire heroes and lackeys, 
gentlemen and slaves, kings and heralds ; indeed even the 
subordinate characters are often more expressive in 
this way than the leading figures. Everything which 
in an affair of great importance breathes only secretly 
through the air, or lies hidden in the hearts of men, 
is here openly expressed. What the soul anxiously con- 
ceals and represses isjiere brought freely and abun- 
dantly to the light. •^ We' experience the truth of life,- — 
how, we do not know ! 

Shakespeare associates himself with the World- 
Spirit; like it, he explores the world; from neither is 
anything hidden. But whereas it is the business of 
the World-Spirit to keep its secrets both before and 
after the event, it is the work of the poet to tell them, 

Shakespeare ad infinitum 

and take us into his confidence before the event or in 
the very action itself. The depraved man of power, the 
well-intentioned dullard, the passionate lover, the quiet 
scholar, all carry their heart in their hand, often con- 
trary to verisimilitude. Every one is candid and lo- 
quacious. It is enough that the secret must out, and 
even the stones would publish it. The inanimate insists 
upon speaking; the elements, the phenomena of sky, 
earth and sea, thunder and lightning, wild animals, lift 
their voice, often apparently symbolically, but all join- 
ing in the revelation. 

The whole civilized world too brings its treasures ^ 
to Shakespeare ; Art and Science, X^ommerce^iid In- 
dustry , iall bear him their^if t s . Sh akespeare V p^bems 
are"a""great ammated^ fair ; and it is to his own country 
that he owes his riches. 

For back of him is England, the sea-encircled and 
mist-covered country, whose enterprise reaches all the 
parts of the earth. The poet lives at a noble and im- 
portant epoch, and presents all its glory and its defi- 
ciencies with great vivacity; indeed, he would hardly 
produce such an effect upon us were it not just his own 
life-epoch that he was representing. Ng^^one^despised •--^ 
the_out er costume of me n mo re th an_he: but he un--^^^ 
dersjood well the i nner man, and here airare~smiilar. ^^^ 
It is said that he has delineated the Romans witlPwon- ^^Jc 
d erful skill. I cann ot see it. They are~Ehglishmen~to "^ 
the bone ; but they are humaliT^oi'otfghly^hllTnan^-and 
'th us the Roman t oga^ presumably tits therfT Wherfone 
takes this into consideration, one finds his anacHromsms 
ent irely admirable; indeed,"lt is' jusFHis~negIect of the 
o uter form that makes his wo rks~so vrtal7 

Enough of these slight words, which cannot begin 




Goethe's Literary Essays 

to sound the praises of Shakespeare. His friends and 
worshipers will have to add many a word to them. 
But one more remark : — it w ould be hard to find a ^ ^ oet 
each of whose works was more thoroughly pervaded 
by^~defini te""and" effective idea than his. 
- Thus Coriolanus is permeated by the idea of 
anger at the refusal of the lower classes to recognize 
the superiority of their betters. In Julius Ccesar 
everything hinges on the idea that the upper classes are 
not willing to see the highest place in the State occu- 
pied, since they wrongly imagine that they are able to 
act together. Antony and Cleopatra expresses with 
a thousand tongues the idea that pleasure and action 
are ever incompatible. And so one will ever find, in 
'• searching his works, new cause for astonishment and 

II, Shakespeare Compared with the Ancients and the 

The interests which vitalize Shakespeare's sjreat 
genius are interests which centre in tliis world. jFor if 
prophecy and madness, dreams, omens, portents, fairies 
and gnomes, ghosts, imps, and conjurers introduce a 
^ magical element which so beautifully pervade s t^ij 
poems, yet these figures are in no way the basic elements 
of his works, but rest on a bro ad bas is of the truth 
£^nd_fidelity of life, so that everything that^ comes from 
hi^ pen seems to us ge nuine and sound. It has already 
been suggested that he belongs not so much to the poets 
of the modern era, which has been called " romantic," 
but much more to the " n aturalist ic " school, since his 
wo rk is permeated with the reality of the present, and 

Shakespeare ad infinitum 

scarcelytou^hesjrti^jem^^ ex- 

cept at his highest points. 

Disregarding tHis^ however, he is, from a closer point 
of view, a decidedlj^niodern poet, separated from the 
ancients by an enormous gulf, not perhaps with regard 
to his outer form, which is here beside our point, bu^ 
w ith regard to his inner and most profound spirit. 

Here let me say that it is not my idea to use the 
following terminology as exhaustive or exclusive; it is 
an attempt not so much to add another new antithesis 
to those already recognized, as to indicate that it is 
already contained in these. These are the antitheses : — ? 

Ancient Modern 

Natural Sentimental 

Pagan Christian 

Classic Romantic 

Realistic Idealistic 

Necessity Freedom 
Duty (sollen) Will {wollen) ^ 

The greatest ills to which men are exposed, as well 
as the most numerous, arise from a certain inner conflict 

1 " Goethe, in a thoughtful essay, Shakespeare und kein Ende, 

written many years later than his famous criticism of Hamlet 

.in Wilhehn Meister, says that the distinction bet ween the two 

[an cient and modern drama] is the ITr^erence l^etween soJlen and 

wojl en, tEiT~ is, b^twe^m:"^nt<gt ainJdrwouldZ He means~fhaT~Tn the 

IGr^k drama the catastrophe is foreordained by an inexorable 
Destiny, while the element of free will, and consequently choice, is 
the very axis of the modern. The definition is conveniently porta- 
ble, but it has its limitations. Goethe' s attention was ' too ex- 
clusively fi xed on the fate tragedt^s~ot" the Greeks, and upon 
SKaKspeare among the moderns": rn~fhe" SpaTrrstr-draraH, for ex- 
ample, custom, loyalty, honor; and religion are as imperative and 
as inevitable as doom. In the Antigone, on the other hand, the 
crisis lies in the character of the protagonist." — James Russell 
Lowell, Shakespeare Once More. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

between duty and will, as well as between duty and 
its accomplishment, and desire and its accomplish- 
ment; and it is these conflicts which bring us so often 
into trouble in the course of our lives. Little difficul- 
ties, springing from a slight error which, though taking 
us by surprise, can be solved easily, give the clue to 
situations of comedy. The great difficulties, on the 
other hand, unresolved and unresolvable, give us 

7 tragedy. ^ ^ o{^>c^, 

2, ' — Erfdominating-in the old poenfe is the conflict be- 
tween duty and performance, in t he new between desi re 
and accomplishment. Let us put this decided diver- 
gency among the other antitheses and see if it does 
not prove suggestive. In both epochs, I have said, 
there predominates now this side, now that ; but since 
duty and desire are not radically separated in men's 
characters, both will be found together, even if one 
prevails and the other is subordinate. Duty is imposed 
upon men ; " must " is a bitter pill. The Will 
man imposes upon himself; man's will is his kingdom of 
heaven. A long-continued obligation is burdensome, 
the inability to perform it even terrible ; but a constant 
will is pleasurable, and with a firm will men can con- 
sole themselves for their inability to accomplish their 

Let us consider a game of cards as a kind of poem ; 
it consists of both those elements. The form of the 
game, bound up with chance, plays here the role of 
necessity, just as the ancients knew it under the form 
of Fate ; the will, bound up with the skill of the player, 
works in the other direction. In this sense I might 
call whist " classic." The form of play limits the oper- 
ation of chance, and even of the will itself. I have to 

Shakespeare ad infinitum 

play, in company with definite partners and opponents, 
with the cards which come into my hand, make the best 
of a long series of chance plays, without being able 
to control or parry them. In Ombre and similar 
games, the contrary is the case. Here are many open- 
ings left for skill and daring. I can disavow the cards 
that fall to my hand, make them count in different ways, 
half or completely discard them, get help by luck, and 
in the play get the best advantage out of the worst 
cards. Thus this kind of game resembles perfectly the 
modern mode of thought and literature. 
" Ancient_tragedy was based on unescapable necessity, 
w hich was only sharpened a nd accelerated by an op- 
posing_will. Here is the seaFof all that^s fearfiii in 
the oracles, the region in which QEdipus lords it over 
all. Less tragic appears necessity in the guise of 
duty in the " Antigone " ; and in how many forms does 
it not appear ! But all necessity is despotic, whether it 
belong to the realm of Reason, like custom and civil 
law, or to Nature, like the laws of Becoming, and 
Growing and Passing-away, of Life and of Death. Be- 
fore all these we tremble, without realizing that it is the 
good of the whole that is aimed at. The will, on the 
contrary, is free, appears free, and is advantageous to 
the individual. Thus the will is a flatterer, and takes 
possession of men as soon as they learn to recognize 
it. It is the god of the modern world. Dedicated to 
it, we are afraid of opposing doctrines, and here lies 
the crux of that eternal division which separates our 
art and thought from the ancients. Through the mo- 
ti ve of N ecessity, tragedy became mightyand~sfrbng ; 
throuffh the motTve~of .Wi]lr^wea1nand~feeble7~^°T)^l oi 

t he latter. ajco&Q .the .s^Q-c^lkd^ Drama^ ., irL_whij;h dresid 

— i_i_ ^g^ 

Goethe's Literary Essays 

Necessity is pyercome „ and _di^solved^_through the Will. 
But just because this colFes~To~^h'e~atd"'^f~ioiir--wealc- 
ness we feel moved when, after painful tension, we are 
at last a little encouraged and consoled. 

As I turn now, after these preliminaries, to Shake- 
speare, I must express the hope that the reader himself 
will make the proper comparisons and applications. It ^^ 
is Shake speare's unique distinction that he has com- 
binedin such_remarkable fashion the old and the new. 
I n his plays Y/ill and Necessity strug gle to maintain 
an equilibrium ; both contend pow^fully, yet always 
so jthat Will remains at a disadvantage. """" 

No one^Has shown perhaps better than he the con- 
nection betu'ecn Necessity and Will in the individual 
character. The person, considered as a character, is 
under a certain necessity ; he is constrained, appointed 
to a certain particular line of action; but as a human 
being he has a will, which is unconfined and universal 
in its demands. Thus arises an inner conflict, and 
Shakespeare is superior to all other writers in the sig- 
nificance with which he endows this. But now an outer 
conflict may arise, and the individual through it may 
become so aroused that an insufficient will is raised 
through circumstance to the level of irremissible neces- 
sity. These motives I have referred to earlier in the 
case of Hamlet; b]^t t he motiv e is__ repeated cons tantly 
iu-^Siiakesp^are, — Hamlet through _the agency of the 
ghost ; jMacbeth t hrough the witches, Hecate, anZ^ his 
wife ; B rutu s throug h his friends gets into a dilemma 
an d situation to which they w ere not equal; eiven in 
Corlolanus th e same motive is found. This Will, winc h 

rP flr^ViPW fipynnrl fLn pnwQr nTTFio inH jyj d ual. | is decidg dlv 


Shakespeare ad infinitu7n 

mgdcrn. iBut since in Shakespeare it does not spring 
from within, but is developed through external circum- 
stance, it becomes a sort of Necessity, and approaches 
the classical motive.7For all the heroes of ancient poetry 
willed only what was possible to men, and from this 
arose that beautiful balance between Necessity, Will, 
and Accomplishment. Still their Necessity is a little 
too severe for it really to be able to please us, even 
though we may wonder at and admire it. A Necessity 
which more or less, or even completely, excludes human 
freedom docs not chime with our views any longer. It is 
true that Shakespeare in his own way has approxi- 
mated this, but in_ making this Necessity a moral 
necessity he has, to o u r pleasure and astonisli ment, 
u nited the spirit of the ancient and the modern worlds. 
If we are to learn anything from him, here is the^oint 
where we must study in his school. Instead of singing 
the praises of our Romanticism so exclusively, and stick- 
ing to it so uncritically, — our Romanticism, which 
need not be chidden or rejected, — and thus mistaking 
and obscuring its strong, solid practical aspect, we 
should rather attempt to make this great fusion be- 
tween the old and the new, even though it does seem 
inconsistent and paradoxical; and all the more should 
we make the attempt, because a great and unique mas- 
ter, whom we value most highly, and, often without 
knowing why, give homage to above all others, has 
already most effectively accomplished this miracle. 
To be sure, he had the advantage of living in a true 
time of harvest, and of working in a vigorous Protestant 
country, where the madness of bigotry was silent for 
a time, so that freedom was given to a true child of 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

nature, such as Shakespeare was, to develop religiously 
his own pure inner nature, without reference to any 
established religion. 

The preceding words were written in the summer of 
1813; 1 ask that the reader will not now find fault 
with me, but simply recall what was said above, — that 
this is merely an individual attempt to show how 
different poetic geniuses have tried to reconcile and 
resolve that tremendous antithesis which has appeared 
in their works in so many forms. To say more would 
be superfluous, since interest has been centred in 
this question for the past few years, and excellent ex- 
planations have been given us. Above all I wish to 
mention Bliimner's highly valuable treatise. On the Idea 
of Fate in the Tragedies of ^schylus, and the excellent 
criticism of it in the supplement of the Jenaische Litera- 
turzeitung. Therefore, I come without further com- 
ment to my third point, which relates immediately to 
the German theatre and to Schiller's efforts to estab- 
lish it for the future. 

III. Shakespeare as Playwright 

When lovers of art wish to enjoy any work, they 
contemplate and delight in it as a whole, that is, they 
try to feel and apprehend the unity which the artist 
can bring to them. Whoever, on the other hand, wishes 
to judge such works theoretically, to assert some judg- 
ment about them, or instruct some one about them, 
must use his discriminating and analytic faculty. This 
we attempted to carry out when we discussed Shake- 
speare, first, as poet in general, and then compared 


Shakespeare ad infinitum 

him with the ancient and modern poets. Now we in- 
tend to close the matter by considering him as a play - 
wright, or poet of the theatre. 

Shakespeare^ fame and excellence belong to the his- 
tory of poetry; but it is an injustice towards all play- 
wrights of earlier and more recent times to give him 
his entire merit in the annals of the theatre. 

A universally recognized talent may make of its ca- 
pacities some use which is problematical. Not every- 
thing which the great do is done in the best fashion. 
^So Shakespeare belon gs by ne cessity in the annals of ^ ^^ 
poetry; in the annals of the theatre Ee~~appesrrs^ only ^>^^^' 
by accident. Since we can honorTum so unreservedly t^^y 
in the first case, it behooves us in the second to explain '^'^^ 
the conditions to which he had to accommodate him- 
self, but not therefore to extol these conditions as either 
admirable or worthy of imitation. 

We must distinguish closely-related poetic genres, 
however often they may be confused and merged to- 
gether in actual treatment, — epic, dialogue, drama, 
play. [E^c requires the verbal delivery to the crowd 
through the mouth of an individual; dialocfue, conver- 
sation in a narrow circle, where the crowd may event- 
ually listen ; drama, conversation bound up with action, 
even if enacted only before the imagination ; play, all 
three together, in so far as they appeal to the sense of 
vision, and can be embodied under certain conditions of 
personal presence and stage-settingTJ 

Shakespeare's works are in this sense highly drama- ^^ 
^cjjby his treatmentT^ revelation of the inner~Iife, he ^•'^^'" -■ 
wins the reader ; the theatrical demands appear to him .W^-^ 
unimportant, and so he takes it easy, and we, spiritu- '^^^^ 
ally speaking, take it easy with him. We pass with him y ~^ 

185 ^^ 

Goethe's Literary Essays 

from place to place; our power of imagination pro- 
vides all the episodes which he omits. We even feel 
grateful to him for arousing our imagination in so 
profitable a way. Since he exhibits everything in 
dramatic form, he renders easy the working of our 
imaginations ; for with the " stage that signifies the 
world," we are more familiar than with the world itself, 
and we can read and hear the most phantastic tilings, 
and still imagine that they might pass before our eyes 
on the stage. This accounts for the frequently bun- 
gling dramatizations of favorite novels. 

Strictly speaking, nothing is theatrical except what 
i s immediately symbolical to the eye : an impor tant a c- 
tiany-iha t is, wh i ch oignifioo a stilLmor e^ important one. 
That Shakespeare knew how to attain this summit, that 
moment witnesses where the son and heir in Henri/ IV 
takes the crown from the side of the slumbering king, 
who lies sick unto death, — takes the crown and marches 
proudly away with it. But these are only moments, 
scattered jewels, separated by much that is untheatri- 
cal. Shakespeare's whole method finds in the stage it- 
self something unwieldy and hostile. H is great tal ent, 
is that of a universal interpreter, or " epitomizer " 
(Epitomator). and since the poetj Ln_essence appears 
as uni versal interpreter of Nature, so we must recog nize 
S hake speare's great genius as lying in this realm; it 
w ould be only falsehood — and in _nosense is this to his 
dishono r — were we to say that the stage wars"~a " worthy 
field for his genius . These limitations of the stage, 
however, have forced upon him certain limitations of 
his own. But he does not, like other poets, pick out 
disconnected materials for his separate works, but puts 
an idea at the centre, and to it relates the world and 

Shakespeare ad infinitum 

the universe. As he works over and boils down ancient 
and modern history, he can often make use of the ma- 
terial of old chronicles; indeed, he often adapts them 
word for word. With romances he does not deal so con- 
scientiously, as Hamlet shows us. Romeo and Juliet 
is truer to the original; still he almost destroys the 
tragic content of it by his two comic characters, Mer- 
cutio and the old nurse, played apparently by two 
favorite actors, the nurse perhaps originally by a male 
performer. If one examines the construction of the 
piece carefully, however, one notices that these two fig- 
ures, and what surrounds them, come in only as farcical 
interludes, and must be as unbearable to the minds of 
the lovers on the stage as they are to us. 

But Shakespeare appears most remarkable when he 
revises and pieces together already existing plays. In 
King John and Lear we can make this comparison, for 
the older plays are extant. But in these cases, too, he 
turns out to be more of a poet than playwright. 

In closing, let us proceed to the solution of the rid- 
dle. The primitiveness of the English stage has been 
brought to our attention by scholars. There is no 
tra ce in it of that striving after realism, which we have 
developed with the improvement ot machinery and the 
art of perspective and costuming, and fronridhich we 
should I mHTt hard to tu rn back fo that childlike begin- 
mng~oFThest^!ge,-— as(^ 

where everything was signifiedy where the audience was 
content to assume a royal chamber behind a green cur- 
tain; and the trumpeter, who always blew his trumpet 
at a certain place, and all the rest of it. Who would 
be content to-day to put up with such a stage? But 
amid such surroundings, Shakespeare's plays were 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

highly interesting stories, only told by several persons, 
who, in order to make somewhat more of an impres- 
sion, had put on masks, and, when it was necessary, 
moved back and forth, entered and left the stage; but 
left to the spectator nevertheless the task of imagining 
at his pleasure Paradise and palaces on the empty stage. 

How else then did Schroeder acquire the great dis- 
tinction of bringing Shakespeare's plays to the Ger- 
man stage, except by the fact that he was the " epito- 
mizer " of the " epitomizer " 1 

Schroeder confined himself exclusively to effect; 
everything else he discarded, even many necessary 
things, if they seemed to injure the effect which he 
wanted to produce on his country and his time. Thus 
by the omission, for instance, of the first scenes of King 
Lear, he annulled the character of the play. And he 
was right, for in this scene Lear seems so absurd that 
we are not able, in what follows, to ascribe to his daugh- 
ters the entire guilt. We are sorry for the old man, 
but we do not feel real pity for him ; and it is pity that 
Schroeder wishes to arouse, as well as abhorrence for 
the daughters, who are indeed unnatural, but not wholly 

In the old play, which Shakespeare revised, this scene 
* produces in the course of the action the loveliest effect. 
Lear flees to France; the daughters and the stepson, 
from romantic caprice, make a pilgrimage over the 
sea, and meet the old man, who does not recognize 
them. Here everything is sweet, where Shakespeare's 
loftier tragic genius has embittered us. A comparison 
of these plays will give the thoughtful reader ever fresh 

Many years ago the superstition crept into Germany 

Shakespeare ad infinitum 

that Shakespeare must be given literally word for word, 
even if actors and audience were murdered in the proc- 
ess. * The attempts, occasioned by an excellent and exact 
translation, were nowhere successful, of which fact the 
painstaking and repeated endeavors of the stage at 
Weimar are the best witness. If we wish to see a 
Shakespearean play, we must take up again Schroeder's 
version; but the notion that in the staging of Shake- 
speare not an iota may be omitted, senseless as it is, 
one hears constantly repeated. If the defenders of this 
opinion maintain the upper hand, in a few years Shake- 
speare will be quite driven from the stage, which for 
that matter would be no great misfortune ; for then the 
reader, whether he be solitary or sociable, will be able 
to get so much the purer pleasure out of him. 

They have, however, with the idea of making an at- 
tempt along the lines of which we have spoken in de- 
tail above, revised Romeo and Juliet for the theatre at 
Weimar. The principles according to which this was 
done we shall develop before long, and it will per- 
haps become apparent why this version, whose staging 
is by no means difficult, although it must be handled 
artistically and carefully, did not take on the German 
stage. Attempts of a similar kind are going on, and 
perhaps something is preparing for the future, for fre- 
quent endeavors do not always show immediate effects.: 




The First Edition of the Tragedy of Hamlet, by Wil- 
liam Shakespeare, London, 1603. Reprinted by 
Fleischer, Leipzig, 1825. 

In this book Shakespeare's devoted admirers receive a 
valuable present. The first unbiased reading has given 
me a wonderful impression. It was the old familiar 
masterpiece again, its action and movement in no way 
altered, but the most powerful and effective principal 
passages left untouched, just as they came from the 
original hand of the genius. The play was exceedingly 
easy and deli ^tful to re ad. One thought one's self in a 
wholly f amiliar^orld, and yet felt something peculiar 
which could not be expressed, and this induced one 
to give the play a closer consideration, and indeed a 
stricter comparison with the old. Hence these few 
random remarks. 

First of all, it was noticeable that there was no lo- 
cality given, nor was there information about the stage- 
setting, and just as little about the division of the acts 
and scenes. All this was represented by " Enter " and 
" Exit." The imagination was allowed free play. One 
saw again in his mind^F'eye~l;Tie old primitive English 
stage. The action took its impetuous course of life 
and passion, and one did not take the time to think 
of such things as places. 

First Edition of ''Hamlef' 

In the more recent familiar revision we find the divi- 
sion into acts and scenes, and locality and stage-setting 
are given. Whether these are by him or by later stage- 
managers, we leave undecided here. 

The Polonius of the second revision is called Corambis 
in the first, and the role appears through this little cir- 
cumstance to take on another character. 

The unimportant supernumerary roles were first des- 
ignated merely by numbers, but here we find them en- 
dowed with honor and significance through being given 
names. We are thus reminded of Schiller, who in Wil- 
Jielm Tell gave names to his peasant women and some 
words to speak, so that they became more acceptable 
roles. The poet does the same here with guards and 

If in the first edition we find a loosely written syllabi- 
cation, in the later one we find it better controlled, 
though always without pedantry. Rhythmic passages 
are divided into five-foot iambics, though half and 
quarter verses are not avoided. 

So much for the external expression. A comparison 
of the inner connections and relations will be of profit 
to any admirer who gives the work an individual study. 
Here are only a few suggestions. 

Passages, which in the first version are only lightly 
sketched by the hand of genius, we find more deliberately 
executed, and in a way that we have to approve and 
admire as necessary. We come, too, upon pleasing am- 
plifications, which may not be absolutely nec<^ssar3r, but 
which are highly welcome. Here and there we find 
hardly perceptible yet vivid aspersions, connective pas- 
sages, even important transpositions to make a highly 
effective speech, — ever ything done with a maste r-hand. 

Goethe's Literary Essays 

wit h intelligenc e anrl fppling., pvprxthin g thrilling our 
emotion s and claxif.ying our insight. 

Everywhere in the first version we admire that sure- 
ness of touch which, without lengthy reflection, seems 
rather as if it had been poured out spontaneously, a 
vivifying and illuminating discovery. And whatever 
excellences the poet may have given to his later work, 
whatever deviations he employed, at least we find no- 
where any important omission or alteration. Only here 
and there some rather coarse and naive expressions are 

In closing we shall mention, however, a noticeable 
difference which concerns the costume of the Ghost. 
His first appearance, as we know, is in armor ; he is 
armed from head to foot; his face is pale and sad, his 
glance wan and yet austere. In this guise he appears 
on the terrace, where the castle guard is marching up 
and down, and where he himself may often have drawn 
up his warriors. 

In the closet of the Queen, on the other hand, we find 
mother and son in the familiar dialogue, and finally 
these words : — 

" Queen. Hamlet, you break my heart. 
Hamlet. O throw the worser part away and keep 
the better." 

But then follows : " Enter the Ghost in his night- 

Who, on first hearing this, does not find it for a mo- 
ment incongruous ? And yet if we grasp it, if we think 
it over, we shall find it right and proper. He should 
— indeed he must — appear first in armor, when he is 

First Edition of "Hamlef 

entering the place where he has rallied his warriors, 
where he has encouraged them to noble deeds. And 
now- we begin to be less confident of our convic- 
tion that it was suitable to see him enter the private 
closet of the queen in armor, too. How much more 
private, homelike, terrible, is his entrance here in the 
form in which he used to appear — in his house apparel, 
his night robe, harmless and unarmed — a guise 
which in itself stigmatizes in the most piteous way the 
treachery which befell him. Let the intelligent reader, 
as he may, picture this to himself. Let the stage- 
manager, convinced of this effect, produce it in this 
way, if Shakespeare is to be staged in his integrity. 

It is worth noting that the commentator Steevens 
has already criticized this scene. When Hamlet 
says : — 

" My father in his habit as he lived ! " 

this discerning critic adds this note : — " If the poet 
means by this expression that the father is appearing 
in his own house costume, he has either forgotten that 
at the beginning he introduced him in armor, or else 
it must be his intention in this latter appearance to 
alter his attire. Hamlet's father, just as a warrior 
prince might do, does not always remain in armor, or 
sleep, as they tell of King Haakon, of Norway, with his 
battle-ax in his hand." 

If we had been clever enough, we should have already 
thought of Hamlet's first utterance in this scene, when 
he sees the Ghost : — " What would your gracious fig- 
ure? " For we have not words enough to express all 
that the English mean by the word " gracious," — every- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

thing that is kind and gentle, friendly and benign, tender 
and attractive, is fused in that word. Certainly it is 
no term for a hero in armor. 

These doubts are happily now dispelled by the re- 
printing of the first edition. We are convinced anew 
that Shakespeare, like the Universe, is always offering 
us new aspects, and still remains, at the end of it all, 
lofty and inaccessible. For all our powers are not com- 
petent to do justice to his words, much less his genius. 




A COMPARISON of the Iliad with Troilus and Cressida 
leads to similar conclusions: here, too, there is neither 
parody nor travesty, but, as in the case of the eagle 
and the owl two subjects taken from nature were put 
in striking contrast with each other, so here are con- 
trasted the intellectual fibre of two epochs. The Greek 
poem is in the grand style, self-restrained and self- 
sufficient, using only the essential, and, in description 
and simile, disdaining all ornament, — ^basing itself on 
noble myths and tradition. TheEnglish classic^ on 
thej)therjiand, one might consider a happy transposi- 
-Jion and translation oi-th^ other gr eat jffifli^^ 
rgrn antic -dramatic style. 

In this connection we should not forget, however, 
that this piece, like many another, is based on second- 
hand narratives, already rendered into prose, and oiily 

Yet it is also quite original, as much so as if the 
ancient piece had never been at all; for it requires just 
as profound a sincerity, just as decided a talent, to de- 
pict for us similar personalities and characters with 
so lights a touch and so lucid a meaning, and represent 
them for a later age with all the human traits of that 
age, which thus sees itself reflected in the guise of the 
ancient story. 





Lyrical Poems, by J. C. Blum. Berlin, 1772 

We no longer feel certain whether it is wise for young 
poets to read the ancients early. Our unimaginative 
mode of life stifles genius, unless the singers of freer 
times kindle it and open to it an atmosphere at least 
ideally more free; but these very singers also breathe 
into the soul so exotic a spirit that the very best poet, 
with the most fortunate genius, can soon merely sup- 
port himself in his flight through his imagination, and 
can no longer give expression to that glowing inspiration 
which alone makes true poetry. Why are the poems of 
the old skalds, of the Celts and the old Greeks, even of 
the Orientals, so strong, so flery, so great? Nature 
drives them to singing as it does the bird in the air. 
As for us (for we cannot deceive ourselves) we are 
driven to the lyre by an artificial and stimulated feel- 
ing, which we owe to our admiration for the ancients, 
and to our delight in them ; and for this reason our best 
songs, with few exceptions, are merely imitative copies. 
These remarks have been suggested by the lyrical 
poems of Herr Blum. This poet is certainly not with- 
out talent, and yet how seldom does he seem to be able 
to stand on his own feet when his Horace is not be- 
fore his eyes. The latter illumines the way for him, 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

like Hero's torch; the moment he must go alone, ne 
sinks. Space does not permit us to prove our point 
here, but we ask every reader who knows his Horace 
whether the poet does not grow tired and cold whenever 
Horace and King David do not lend him thoughts, feel- 
ings, expressions, situations, and in the case of the for- 
mer even his mythology, all of which, we must feel, are 
seldom used except when the imagination creates with a 
cold heart. The well-known Horatian dialogue. Donee 
gratus eram, Kleist has translated much better; but 
the " Lamentation of David and Jonathan " we have 
never seen better versified than here. We wish the 
writer an unspoilt maiden, days of complete leisure, and 
the pure spirit of poetry without the spirit of mere 
authorship. The very best of poets degenerates when 
in composing he thinks of the public, and is filled with a 
yearning for fame, especially newspaper fame, rather 
than completely absorbed by his subject. 

Cyrnbellme, a Trageay, Based on a Shakespearian 
Theme [by J. G. Sulzer]. Danzig, 1772. 

The author, obliged by a severe illness to avoid all 
fatiguing work, — so we are informed in the Preface, — 
amused himself with the study of Shakespeare's works. 
We could have told him in advance that this was no 
reading for a convalescent ; whoever wishes to share 
in the life that glows through Shakespeare's plays must 
himself be sound in body and mind. At all events, our 
author, moved by a cool, weak, critical modesty, re- 
gretted that so many " incongruites " should mar the 
*' many just sentiments " and " some beauties " (as the 

Goetlie as a Young Reviewer 

eminent Dr. Johnson likewise remarks) that are to be 
found in this play. So he resolved to separate the 
dross fi'om the gold (that is vox populi critici in regard 
to Shakespeare since time immemorial), and to attempt 
nothing less than this : what Sophocles would approxi- 
mately have done if he had tried to make a play out 
of the same material. So he travestied — no, not traves- 
tied, for then something of the appearance of the orig- 
inal would remain — parodied — no, not that either, for 
then something could be guessed by the very contrast — 
what then? what word will express the poverty that is 
here, compared with the infinite riches of Shakespeare ! 

Shakespeare, who felt the spirit of several centuries 
in his breast, through whose soul the life of whole cen- 
turies was stirring ! — and here — comedians in silk and 
buckram, and daubed scene-painting! The scene a 
wood; in front a thick copse, through which one en- 
ters a grotto ; in the background a large pasteboard 
rock, on which ladies and gentlemen sit, lie, are stabbed, 

That is the way Sophocles would have handled this 
theme! It is bad enough to take Shakespeare's play, 
whose very essence is the life of history, and reduce it 
to the Sophoclean unity which aims merely at present- 
ing action ; but to model it on the " Treatise on Trag- 
edy " in the first part of the old Leipziger Bihliotlieh! ^ 
We are certain that every one, not merely readers of 
Shakespeare, will cast it aside with contempt. 
iBy Nicolai. 




To me Byron's tragedy of Manfred was a wonderful 
phenomenon, touching me closely. This singular but 
highly gifted poet has absorbed my own Faust into 
himself, and, like a hypochondriac, drawn from it the 
strangest sort of nourishment. Tho se mo tives and 
ideas which suited his p urposes he has made u se of, but 
i n his own original way, so that everything seems dif- 
ferent; and fpr this reason I cannot wonder enough at 
^^is gehms. \ This transformation affects"^h^e ^hole so 
intimately that highly interesting lectures could be 
given on the similarity and dissimilarity which his work 
bears to his pattern ; )but I do not deny that in the long 
run the dull glow^oi a boundless and profound despair 
becomes irksome to us. Yet in the dissatisfaction 
which one feels there are always interwoven both admir- 
ation and respect. 

Thus we find in this tragedy quite uniquely the very 
quintessence of the feelings and passions of a remark- 
able genius, but a genius doomed from birth to suffer- 
ing and anguish. The details of his life and the char- 
acteristics of his poetry hardly permit of a just and 
fair criticism. He has often enough confessed his an- 
guish ; he has repeatedly presented it in his verse, and 
it is difficult for any one not to feel real pity for the 
unbearable pain which he is forever working and gnaw- 
ing over in his heart. 

Byron's ''Manfred" 

There are two women whose shadows follow him un- 
ceasingly, and who play a large role in his best-known 
works ^ one appears under the name Astarte, the other, 
without form or presence, simply as A Voice. 

The following story is told of the tragic adventure 
which was his experience with the first. As a young, 
daring and highly attractive youth he won the love of 
a Florentine lady ; her husband discovered it and mur- 
dered her. But the murderer was found dead that same 
night in the street, and there was nothing to throw sus- 
picion upon a single soul. Lord Byron left Florence, 
but these apparitions haunted him throughout his whole 

This romantic event appears in his poems in count- 
less allusions, as for example where he, probably brood- 
ing over his own tragedy, applies the sad story of the 
king of Sparta to his own case. The story is as 
follows : Pausanias, the Lacedaemonian general, having 
won fame in the important victory at Platsea, later 
through arrogance, stubbornness, and cruel treatment, 
loses the affection of the Greeks, and, on account of 
a secret understanding with the enemy, loses also the 
confidence of his countrymen. He thus brings blood- 
guiltiness upon his head, which pursues him to a miser- 
able end. For while in command of the fleet of the Greek 
allies in the Black Sea, he falls violently in love with a 
girl of Byzantium. After a long struggle he wins her 
from her parents; she is to be brought to him in the 
night. Filled with shame, she requests the servants to 
put out the light; this is done, but groping about in 
the room, she knocks over the lamp-stand. Pausanias 
awakes suddenly from sleep, suspects murder, seizes his 
sword and kills his beloved. The horrible vision of this 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

scene never leaves him afterwards, its shadow pursue^ 
him unceasingly, so that he appeals in vain to the gods 
and to necromancers for aid and absolution. 

What a sick heart the poet must have who would 
seek out such a story from the ancient world, appro- 
priate it to himself, and burden himself with its tragic 
image! This will explain the following monologue, so 
laden with gloom and the despair of life ; we recommend 
it to all lovers of declamation for serious practice. 
Hamlet's monologue is here intensified. It will take 
considerable art especially to pick out the interpola- 
tions and yet keep the connection and the flow and 
smoothness of the whole. Besides it will be discov- 
ered that a certain vehement, even eccentric, expres- 
sion is needed in order to do justice to the intention of 
the poet.^ 

iThe quotation which follows here, translated by Goethe into 
German, is Manfred's speech at the end of act 2, scene 2, begin- 

"We are the fools of Time and Terror! Days 
Steal on us, and steal from us; yet we live. 
Loathing our life, and dreading still to die," 




In hesitating some time ago to insert a passage from 
[Manzoni's] Count Carmagnola, a piece which is per- 
haps translatable, and in the present instance making 
the daring attempt to take up and discuss the untrans- 
latable Don Juan, it may seem as if we are guilty of 
an inconsistency. We shall therefore point out the dif- 
ference between the two cases. Manzoni is as yet but 
little known among us, and it is better that people 
should learn to know his merits first in their complete 
fullness, as they are presented only in the original ; after 
that, a translation by one of our young poets would be 
decidedly in order. With Lord Byron's talent, on the 
other hand, we are sufficiently acquainted, and can 
neither help nor injure him by translation, for the 
originals are in the hands of all cultivated people. 

Yet such an attempt, even if it were attempting the 
impossible, will always have a certain value. For if a 
false reflection does not exactly give back the original 
picture to us, yet it makes us attentive at least tO' 
the mirror itself and to its more or less perceptible 

Don Juan is a work of infinite genius, misan- 
thropical with the bitterest inhumanity, yet sym pa- 
thetic with the deepest intensity of tender feeling. And 

iThis paper is preceded by a translation into German verse 
of the first five stanzas of Don Juan. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

since we now know the author and esteem him, and do 
not wish him to be otherwise than he is, we enjoy thank- 
fully what he dares with overgreat independence, indeed 
insolence, to bring before us. The technical treatment 
of the verse is quite in accord with the singular, reckless, 
unsparing content. The poet spares his language as 
little as he does his men, and as we examine it more 
closely we discover indeed that English poetry has a 
cultivated comic language which we Germans wholly 

The comic in German lies preeminently in the idea, 
less in the treatment or style. We admire Lichtenberg's 
abounding wealth; he has at his command a whole 
world of knowledge and relations to mix like a pack 
of cards and deal them out roguishly at pleasure. With 
Blumauer too, whose compositions in verse certainly 
possess the comic spirit, it is especially the sharp 
contrast between old and new, aristocrats and com- 
mon people, the noble and the mean, that delights us. 
If we examine further we find that the German, in 
order to be amusing, steps back several centuries and 
has the luck to be peculiarly ingenuous and engaging 
only in doggerel rhyme. 
^ In translating Don Juan there are many useful things 
to be learned from the Englishman. There is only one 
joke which we cannot imitate from him, — one that 
gets its effect by a singular and dubious accent in words 
which look quite differently on paper. The English 
linguist may judge how far the poet in this case has 
wantonly exceeded the proper limits. 

It is only by chance that the verses inserted here 
happened to be translated, and they are now pub- 
lished not as a pattern but for their suggestiveness. All 

Byron's "Don Juan" 

our talented translators ought to try their skill at least 
partly upon them; they will have to permit assonances 
and imperfect rhymes and who knows what besides. A 
certain laconic treatment will also be necessary, in order 
to give the full quality and significance of this auda- 
cious mischievousness. Only when something has been 
accomplished along these lines, can we discuss the sub- 
ject further. 

Possibly we may be reproached for spreading in 
translation such writings as these through Germany, 
thus making an honest, peaceful, decorous nation ac- 
quainted with the most immoral works that the art of 
poety ever produced. But according to our way of 
thinking, these attempts at translation should not be 
intended for the press, but may serve as excellent prac- 
tice for talented brains. Our poets may then discreetly 
apply and cultivate what they acquire in this way, for 
the pleasure and delight of their countrymen. No par- 
ticular injury to morality is to be feared from the pub- 
lication of such poems, since poets and authors would 
have to cast aside all restraint to be more corrupting 
than the papers of the present day. 



"De nugis hominum seria Veritas 
Uno volvitur assere." 

Certainly if any course of human follies, presented in 
lofty style, is to be put upon the stage, then this drama 
should carry off the prize. 

We often allow ourselves to be charmed by the 
merits of a work of art, to the extent that the last 
good thing which has come before us we consider and 
discuss as the greatest we have ever seen. Still this 
does no harm, for we study such a work then con amove 
and all the more closely, and seek to discover its merits, 
in order that our judgment may be justified. For this 
reason I do not hesitate to acknowledge that in the 
Daughter of the Air I admire more than ever Calderon's 
great talent, his l ofty genius and clear insight. We 
should not fail to reco gnize that the subject is 
superior to his other plays, in that the story is 
based on motives purely human, and there is no 
more of the supernatural element than is necess ary for 
tlie extraordinary and the exceptional in humanaffairs 
to develop and proceed in natural fashion. Only_the 
beginning and the end arejnarve lous ; eyerythi ng eTse 
proceeds ma" natural course. 

WFat there is to" say of this play is true of all the 
plays by this poet. He gives us in no way a real view' 
of nature; he is rather theatrical througho ut, .eseji 

Calderon's ''Daughter of the Air" 

staeej. Of what_ we call iUusion, especially such as 
touches the feelings, we find not a trace. Thejiesign is 
clear to one's niind, the scenes follow ofjiecessity, m 
aTind 7)f banet-ojrder,^lea^ing ahJ artistic in i"ts w ay, 
and suggest the technique of our latest comic opera. 
The inner leading motives are always the same,— conflict 
of ^uty , passion^ .CQaditipns'^erivFd^ from the antithesis 
of t he characters and th e existing r elations. 

The main action proceeds in a poetic and dignified 
manner ; the minor scenes, which have an elegant move- 
ment, in the style of the minuet, are rhetorical, dialecti- 
cal, sophisticated. All the types of humanity are ex- 
hausted; there is not missing even the fool, whose sim- 
ple mind makes havoc of deception whenever a pretense 
is made of sympathy and kindness. 

Now we must admit on reflection that human situa- 
tions and emotions cannot be put on the stage in their 
primitive realism, but must be worked up, touched up, 
idealized. And thus we find them in this case, too; the 
poet however stands on the threshold of over-refinement, 
he gives us a quintessence of humanity. 

Shakespeare on the contrary gives us the rich ripe 
grape from the vine. According to our taste we can 
enjoy the single berries, press them out and taste or sip 
the juice or the fermented wine — however we treat them 
we are refreshed. With Calderon, on the other hand, 
nothing is left to the Choice or taste of the spectator; 
we receive from him the spirits already drawn oiPand 
distilled, seasoned with _minxIspiC£S*Iai!_ffivore3^ 
sweets ; we must acceptjthe beverage as it is, as^ajdeli- 
ciqus andj^alatable stimulant:5^or^ else^ ^^^Hl_^. '^^' 

But the reason for our giving the Daughter of the 
Air so high a place has already been suggested ; it is f a- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

vored by its excellent subject-matter. For we object to 
seeing a noble and free man, as in several of Calderon's 
plays, indulging in dark error and lending his reason 
to indiscretions and folly ; here we have a quarrel with 
the poet himself, since his material offends us, whereas 
his manner charms. This is the case in The Devotion of 
the Cross and in Daybreak in Copacabana. 

In this connection we may say in print what 
we have often expressed privately, that we must 
regard it as one of the greatest advantages of life 
that Shakespeare enjoyed, that he was born and 
brought up as a Protestant. He appears always as a 
human being, with a complete faith and confidence in hu- 
man values and affairs: error and superstition he feels 
to be beneath him, and only toys with them, compelling 
the supernatural to serve his purposes. Tragic ghosts, 
droll goblins he summons to his ends, in which every- 
thing is clarified and cleansed of superstition, so that 
the poet never feels the dilemma of being compelled to 
deify the absurd, the saddest downfall which mankind, 
conscious of possessing reason, can experience. 

Returning to the Daughter of the Air, this question 
suggests itself: If we are now enabled to transport 
ourselves to so remote an atmosphere, without know- 
ing the locality or understanding the language, to enter 
familiarly Into a foreign literature without previous 
historical research, and to bring home to ourselves in 
one example the quality and flavor of a certain age, 
the mind and genius of a people — to whom do we owe 
thanks for all this? Evidently to the translator, who 
all his life and with laborious industry has thus utilized 
his talent to our benefit. Our warmest thanks, there- 
fore, we present to Dr. Gries; he has given us a gift 

Calderon's ''Daughter of the Air'' 

whose value is overwhelming, a gift in considering which 
we gladly refrain from all comparisons, because it de- 
lights us by its clearness, wins us by its charm, and by 
the complete harmony of all its parts convinces us that 
nothing in it could or should have been diiferent. 

Such excellence older readers are likely to prize more 
highly, for they like to enjoy in comfort a perfectly 
adequate presentation; younger men, on the contrary, 
actively engaged in work, cooperating and struggling, 
do not always acknowledge merit which they themselves 
hope to emulate. 

All honor then to the translator, who concentrated 
his energies on a single point, and went ahead in a 
single direction, so that we could enjoy in a thousand 
different ways! 




Histoire de la Vie et des Outrages de Moliere, par J. 
Taschereau. Paris, 1828. 

This work deserves to be read carefully by all true 
lovers of literature, because it gives us new insight into 
the qualities and individuality of a great man. It will 
also be welcome to his devoted admirers, although they 
hardly need this in order to treasure him highly; to 
the attentive reader he has revealed himself sufficiently 
in his works. 

Examine the Misanthrope carefully and ask your- 
self whether a poet has ever represented his inner spirit 
more completely or more admirably. We can well call 
the content and treatment of this play " tragic." Such 
an impression at least it has always left with us, be- 
cause that mood is brought before our mind's eye which, 
often in itself brings us to despair, and seems as if it 
would make the world unbearable. 

- Here is represented the type of man who despite 
great cultivation has yet remained natural, and who 
with himself, as well as others, would like only too well 
to express himself with complete truth and sincerity. 
But we see him in conflict with the social world, where 
one cannot move without dissimulation and shallowness. 

In contrast to such a type Timon is merely a comic 
character. I wish that a talented poet would depict 
such a visionary who was always deceiving himself as to 
the world, and then was greatly put out with it, as if 
it had deceived him. 



Des Knahen Wunderhorn. Old German Songs, edited 
by Achim von Arnim and Klemens Brentano. Hei- 
delberg, 1806. 

We are decidedly of the opinion that for the present 
criticism should not concern itself with this collection. 
The editors have collected and arranged this volume 
with such love and diligence, such good taste and deli- 
cacy of feeling, that their countrymen should first of 
all show their gratitude for this loving care by their 
good-will, their interest, and their sympathetic appre- 
ciation. This little book ought to be found in every 
home in which lively and healthy people dwell, — at the 
window, under the mirror, or wherever else songbooks 
and cookbooks are usually found, so that it may be 
opened in any happy or unhappy mood, and one may 
always find something which strikes a similar or a new 
chord, even though one must perhaps turn over a few 

But the most fitting place for this volume would be 
upon the piano of a lover or a master of music, so that 
full justice might be done the songs by setting them to 
old familiar tunes, or suitable tunes might be adapted 
to them, or, God willing, new and striking melodies 
might be composed through their inspiration. 

If these songs were then borne from ear to ear, from 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

mouth to mouth, clothed in their own melodious har- 
mony, if they gradually returned regenerated and en- 
hanced in beauty to the people from whom they, so to 
speak, have in part sprung, then we might truly say that 
the little book had fulfilled its mission, and could now be 
lost again in its written or printed form, because it 
had become part and parcel of the life and culture of 
the nation. 

But since in our modern times, especially in Ger- 
many, nothing seems to exist or to have any effect un- 
less it is written about again and again, adjudged and 
made a bone of contention, a few remarks may not im- 
properly be introduced here about this collection, — a 
few observations which may not enhance our enjoyment 
of the book, but at least will not impair or destroy it. 

What may at the outset be said unreservedly in 
praise of the collection is that it is thoroughly varied 
and characteristic. It contains more than two hun- 
dred poems of the last three centuries, all of them dif- 
fering so much from one another in sense, conception, 
sound, and manner that the same criticism cannot ap- 
ply to any two of them. We shall therefore assume 
the agreeable task of characterizing [some of] them in 
order as- the inspiration of the moment may prompt us : 

The WunderJiorn. Fairy-like, child-like, pleasing. 

The Sultan's Little Daughter. Tender Christian feeling, charm- 

Tell and His Child. Honest and solid. 

Grandmother Snake-cook. Deep, enigmatic, dramatic, admira- 
bly handled. 

Isaiah's Face. Barbaric grandeur. 

Fire Incantation. Appropriate and true to the spirit of the 

Poor Schwartenhals. Roguish, A'himsical, jolly. 

Death and the Maiden. After the manner of the Dance of 
Death; like a wood-cut; admirable. 


Old German Folksongs 

Nocturnal Musicians. Droll, extravagant, inimitable. 

The Stubborn Bride. Humorous, somewhat grotesque. 

Cloister-shi/. Capriciously confused, yet to the purpose. 

T-fie Braggart Knight. Very good 'in the realistic-romantic 

The Black-broivn Witch. Rather confused in transmission, but 
the theme of inestimable value. 

Love Without Caste. Romantic twilight. 

The Hospitality of Winter. Written with a great deal of ele- 

The High-born Maiden. Christian pedantry, but not wholly un- 

Love Spins no Silh. Charmingly confused and therefore rous- 
ing the imagination. 

The Faith of an Hussar. Swiftness and lightness expressed in 
a wonderful way. 

The Ratcatcher of Hameln. Tends toward the manner of the 
ballad-monger, but not coarse. 

Tuck Your Dress, Gretlein. After the manner of vagabond 
poets; unexpectedly epigrammatic. 

The Song of the Ring. Romantic tenderness. 

The Knight and the Maiden. Romantic twilight; powerful. 

Harvest Song. A Catholic funeral hymn; good enough to be 
Protestant ! 

A Surfeit of Learning. A gallant piece; but the pedant cannot 
get rid of his learning. 

The Fight at Murten. Realistic, probably modernized. 

The Haste of Time in God. Christian, somewhat too historical, 
but quite suited to its subject, and very good. 

Reveille. Priceless for any one who has the imagination to 
understand it. 

Drought. Thought, feeling, presentation everywhere right. 

The Drummer Boy. Lively presentation of a distressing inci- 
dent. A poem which the discriminating will find it difficult to 

Should and Must. Perfect in plan, although here in a dismem- 
bered and curiously restored condition. 

A Friendly Service. German romanticism, pious and pleasing. 

Cradle Song. Rhyming nonsense, perfectly suited to put one 
to sleep. 

Miller's Farewell. To one who can grasp the situation, a price- 
less thing; but the first stanza requires an emendation. 

Abbot Neidhard and His Monks. A prank of Till Eulenspiegel 
of the very best sort, and very well told. 

The Horrible Marriage. An extraordinary case; in the ballad- 
monger's manner, but admirably handled. " 

The Excellent Comrade. Nonsense; but happy the man who 
can sing it agreeably ! 

Unrequited Love. Very good, but tending toward a rather 
Philistine prose. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

The Little Tree. Full of longing and playfulness, yet full of 

Mesalliance. Excellent enigmatic fable, but a clearer treat- 
ment might have been more pleasing to the reader. 

With these impromptu characterizations — for how 
could they be other than impromptu.'^ — we do not in- 
tend to anticipate the judgment of any readers of the 
book, and least of all those readers who by their own 
lyric enjoyment and the appreciation of a sympathetic 
heart can get more from the poems themselves than any 
brief characterizations like ours can ever give them. 
We should like, however, in conclusion to say some- 
thing about the value of the collection as a whole. 

We have been accustomed for years to give the name 
of " folksongs " to this species of poetry, not because 
it is really composed by the people or for the people, 
but because it embraces in itself something so vigorous 
and wholesome that the healthy stock of the nation un- 
derstands it, remembers it, appropriates it, and at 
times propagates it. Poetry of this kind is as true 
poetry as can possibly exist. It has an incredible 
charm even for us who stand on a higher plane of cul- 
ture, just as the sight of young people and the memory 
of one's own youth have for old age. Art in them is in 
conflict with nature; and it is because of their gradual 
development, their mutual influence, and their striving 
for form that these songs seem to seek a further per- 
fection when they have already reached their goal. 
True poetic genius, wherever it appears, is perfect in 
itself: no matter what imperfections of language, of 
external technique, or anything else, stand in its way, 
it possesses the higher inner form which ultimately has 
everything at its command, and often in an obscure 

Old German Folksongs 

and imperfect medium produces a more striking effect 
than it can later produce in a more perfect medium. 
The-vivid poetic perception of a limited state or condi- 
tion gives to what is purely individual a universal 
significance, finite to be sure, but after all limitless and 
unrestricted, so that within a small compass we fancy 
we see the whole world. The promptings of a pro- 
found intuition urge the poet to a significant brevity; 
and what would seem in prose unpardonably topsy- 
turvy is to the true poetic sense a necessity and a vir- 
tue; even a solecism, if it appeals seriously to our 
whole imagination, stimulates it to a surprisingly high 
degree of enjoyment. 

In characterizing the individual poems we avoided 
the kind of formal classification which may more read- 
ily be made in the future when several authentic and 
typical examples of every kind have been collected. But 
we cannot conceal our own preference for those songs 
in which lyric, dramatic, and epic treatment is inter- 
woven in such a way that a problem, at first shrouded 
in mystery, is finally solved skilfully, or even, if you 
will, epigrammatically. The well-known ballad, " Why 
dois your brand sae drop wi' bluid, Edward, Edward? " 
is, especially in the original, the most perfect example 
of this species of poetry. 

We hope that the editors will be encouraged to pub- 
lish in the near future another volume of poems from 
the rich store collected by them as well as from those 
already printed. We trust that when they do this they 
will guard themselves carefully against the singsong 
of the Minnesingers, the blatant coarseness and the 
platitudes of the Mastersingers, as well as against 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

everything monkish and pedantic. If they should collect 
a second volume of these German songs, they might also 
be asked to select songs of the same kind from foreign 
nations and to give them in the original and in trans- 
lations that are either already extant or may be made 
by them for this special purpose. The most of these, 
to be sure, will be from the English, fewer from the 
French, some of a different type from the Spanish, and 
almost none from the Italian. 

If from the outset we have doubted the competence 
of criticism, even in its highest sense, to judge this 
work, we have all the more reason to ignore that kind 
of research which attempts to separate the songs that 
are genuine from those that have been more or less 
restored. The editors, so far as it is possible in these 
later times, have caught the spirit of their task, and we 
ought to be grateful to them even for those poems which 
have been oddly restored or made up of heterogeneous 
parts or are absolutely spurious. Who does not know 
what a song has to undergo when it has been for some 
time in the mouth of the people, and not merely un- 
educated people either? Why should he who finally 
writes it down and inserts it in a collection with other 
poems not have a certain personal right to it? We 
do not possess any poetic or sacred book of earlier 
times which has not depended for its final form on the 
skill or whim of him who first wrote it down or some 
later copyist. 

If we accept the printed collection lying before us 
from this point of view, and with a grateful and kindly 
spirit, we may charge the editors all the more ear- 
nestly to keep their poetic archives pure, lofty, and in 
good order. It serves no purpose to print everything; 

Old German Folksongs 

but thej will place the whole nation in their debt if 
they contribute toward that thorough, faithful, and 
intelligent history of our poetry and our poetic culture 
which from now on must be the ultimate goal of 




My old love for original folksongs has not lessened, but 
has rather been increased by receiving valuable com- 
munications from many quarters. 

In particular, I have received from the East, some 
separately, and some in collections, such songs of 
many different peoples; they extend from Olympus to 
the Baltic Sea, and from that line towards the north- 

My hesitation in publishing any of them is due partly 
to the fact that many varied interests have drawn me 
here and there and so prevented me, but also more par- 
ticularly to the following circumstance. 

All true national poems have a small circle of ideas, 
to which they are always limited, and in which they re- 
volve. For that reason they become monotonous in 
mass, because they express one and the same limited 

Examine the six modern Greek songs inserted above; 
every one will admire the powerful contrast between 
the virile freedom of spirit in the wilderness and a gov- 
ernment, orderly indeed, but still barbaric and of in- 
sufficient power. A dozen or more would be sufficient 
to exhibit this refractory character in them, and show 
us repetitions such as we find in our own folk- 
songs, where we often come upon more or less happy va- 

Folksongs Again Commended 

riations of the same theme, as well as mixed and hetero- 
geneous fragments. 

It- is remarkable, nevertheless, how much the indi- 
vidual peoples mentioned above differ among themselves 
in their songs ; this characteristic we shall not discuss 
abstractly, but will rather develop by means of exam- 
ples from time to time in the ensuing numbers. 

Since contributions for this purpose will be highly 
welcome from all quarters, we request the friend who 
showed us at Wiesbaden in the summer of 1815 some 
Greek songs in the original and in a very happy transla- 
tion, promising to send us soon a copy which never how- 
ever appeared, to get in touch with us again and co- 
operate with us in this praiseworthy undertaking. 




In the swift progress of literary, as of human, culture 
it happens commonly that we forget the person to whom 
we owe the first stimulus, the original influence. What 
is, and what flourishes here and now, we believe had to 
be so and had to happen so. But in this we are wrong, 
for we lose sight of those who guided us to the right 
path. From this point of view I call attention to a 
man who first gave the stimulus to the great epoch in 
the second half of the last century, an epoch of clearer 
human knowledge, nobler toleration, gentler humanity. 
Of this man, to whom I owe so much, I am often re- 
minded, especially when the talk is of truth and error, 
which fluctuate here and there among mankind. A third 
word may be added of gentler meaning, that is, " singu- 
larity " (Eigenheit), for there are certain human 
phenomena which can be best expressed by this term. 
Viewed externally they are erroneous, but from within 
full of truth, and rightly considered, of the highest 
psychological importance. They are those qualities 
which constitute the individual ; the universal is thereby 
specified, and in the most peculiar of them there al- 
ways shines some intelligence, reason, and good-will 
which charms us and fetters us. From this standpoint, 
" Yorick " Sterne, revealing in the tenderest way 
the human in men, has called these " singularities," in 
so far as they express themselves in action, " ruling 

Laurence Sterne 

passions." For certainly they are what drive men in 
a certain direction, push them along on a consistent 
track, and without requiring reflection, conviction, pur- 
pose or strength of will, keep them continually in life 
and motion. It is immediately apparent how closely 
related habit is to them; for it promotes that con- 
venience in which our idiosyncrasies love to saunter un- 




English critics, as we have come to know them from 
their various Reviews, deserve a great deal of respect. 
Their acquaintance not only with their own literature, 
but also with that of other countries, is most gratify- 
ing; the seriousness and the thoroughness with which 
they go to work arouse our admiration, and we are glad 
to confess that much may be learned from them. More- 
over, we find ourselves very favorably impressed by the 
attitude these men take toward their calling as critics 
and the respect which they have for the intelligence of 
the public, — a public, to be sure, which is very atten- 
tive to all things written and spoken, but is probably 
hard to satisfy, and ever disposed to contradict and 

No matter how thorough and comprehensive the 
presentation of a case by an attorney before a body of 
judges or by a speaker before a provincial diet may 
be, some opponent will very soon come to the fore with 
forcible arguments ; the attentive and critical hearers 
will themselves be divided, and many an important mat- 
ter is often decided by a very small majority. 

Such a spirit of opposition, even though passive, we 
occasionally assume toward critics, both at home and 
abroad, whose knowledge of facts we by no means deny 

The English Reviewers 

and whose premises we often grant, but whose conclu- 
sions nevertheless we do not share. 

Still we must be especially forbearing to the English 
when they appear harsh and unjust toward foreign pro- 
ductions ; for those who count Shakespeare among their 
forebears may -well allow themselves to be carried away 
by their pride of ancestry. 




So much has been written about the condition of Ger- 
man literature at that time,^ and to such good purpose, 
that every one who takes any interest in it can obtain 
full information ; the opinions with regard to it, too, 
are fairly unanimous ; so that anything I say about it 
here, in my fragmentary and desultory fashion, is not 
so much an analysis of its characteristics as of its rela- 
tion to me. I will therefore first speak of those 
branches which especially react upon the public, those 
two hereditary foes of all easy-going life, and of all 
cheerful, self-sufficient, living poetry: — I mean, satire 
and criticism. 

In quiet times every one desires to live after his own 
fashion ; the citizen wishes to carry on his trade or his 
business, and then enjoy himself; so, too, the author 
likes to produce something, see his work published, and, 
in the consciousness of having done something good and 
useful, looks, if not for remuneration, at any rate for 
praise. From this state of tranquillity the citizen is 
roused by the satirist, the author by the critic, and so 
it comes that peaceful society is rudely disturbed. 

The literary epoch in which I was born developed out 
of the preceding one by opposition. Germany, so long 
inundated by foreign people, pervaded by other nations, 
employing foreign languages in learned and diplomatic 

1 About 1765-68. 


German Literature in Goetlie's Youth 

transactions, could not possibly cultivate her own. 
Together with so many new ideas, innumerable strange 
words were obtruded necessarily and unnecessarily upon 
her, and even for objects already known people were 
induced to make use of foreign expressions and turns of 
language. The Germans, brutalized by nearly two cen- 
turies of misery and confusion, took lessons from the 
French in manners and from the Latins in the art of 
expression. This art ought to have been cultivated 
in German, since the use of French and Latin idioms, 
and their partial translation into German, made both 
their social and business style ridiculous. Besides this, 
they recklessly adopted figures of speech belonging to 
the southern languages, and employed them most ex- 
travagantly. In the same way the stately ceremonious- 
ness of prince-like Roman citizens had been transferred 
to the educated circles in German provincial towns. 
As a result, they nowhere felt themselves at home, least 
of all in their own houses. 

But in this epoch works of genius had already ap- 
peared, and the German independence of mind and en- 
joyment of life began to assert themselves. This cheer- 
ful spirit, combined with an honest sincerity, led to the 
demand for purity and naturalness in writing, with- 
out the intermixture of foreign words, and in accord- 
ance with the dictates of plain common sense. By these 
praiseworthy endeavors, however, the flood-gates were 
thrown open to a prolix national insipidity, nay, the 
dam was broken down, and an inundation was bound to 
follow. However, a stiff pedantry continued for some 
time to hold sway in the four learned professions, and 
eventually, at a much later date, fled for refuge first 
to one and then to another. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Men of parts, children of nature looking freely about 
them, had therefore two objects on which they could 
exercise their faculties, against which they could direct 
their energies, and, as the matter was of no great im- 
portance, vent their mischievousness ; these were, on the 
one hand, a language disfigured by foreign words, forms, 
and turns of speech ; and on the other, the worthlessness 
of such writings as had been careful to avoid those 
faults ; but it never occurred to any one that each evil 
was being combated by fostering the other. 

Liscow, a daring young man, first ventured to attack 
by name a shallow, silly writer, whose foolish behavior 
soon gave him an opportunity for yet more drastic 
treatment. He then sought other subjects, invariably 
idirecting his satire against particular objects and per- 
sons, whom he despised and sought to render despicable ; 
indee'd, he pursued them with passionate hatred. But 
his career was short ; for he died early, and was remem- 
bered only as a restless, irregular youth. The talent 
and character shown in what he did, in spite of the 
smallness of his production, may well have seemed valu- 
able to his countrymen: for the Germans have always 
shown a peculiar piety towards the promise of genius 
prematurely cut off. Suffice it to say that in our early 
youth Liscow was praised and commended to us as an 
excellent satirist, who might justly claim preference 
even before the universally beloved Rabener. But we 
did not gain much from him ; for the only thing we dis- 
covered from his works was that he considered the ab- 
surd absurd, and this seemed to us a matter of course. 

Rabener, well educated, grown up under good school 
discipline, of a cheerful and by no means passionate 
or malicious disposition, turned to general satire. His 

German Literature in Goethe's YoutJi 

censure of so-called vices and follies is the outcome of 
clear-sighted and unimpassioned common sense, and of 
a definite moral conception as to what the world ought 
to be. His denunciation of faults and failings is harm- 
less and cheerful ; and in order to excuse even the slight 
daring of his writings, he assumes that the attempt to 
improve fools by ridicule is not in vain. 

Rabener's personal character was such as we do not 
often meet. A thorough and strict man of business, 
he did his duty, and so gained the good opinion of his 
fellow-townsmen and the confidence of his superiors ; 
at the same time, by way of relaxation, he indulged in 
a genial contempt for all that immediately surrounded 
him. Learned pedants, vain youngsters, every sort of 
narrowness and conceit, he made fun of rather than 
satirized, and even his satire expressed no scorn. Just 
in the same way he jested about his own condition, his 
unhappiness, his life, and his death. 

There is little of the aesthetic in the manner in which 
this writer treats his subjects. In external form he 
is indeed varied enough, but throughout he makes too 
much use of direct irony, that is, in praising the blame- 
worthy and blaming the praiseworthy, whereas this 
rhetorical device should be adopted extremely spar- 
ingly; for, in the long run, it becomes annoying to 
the clear-sighted, perplexes the foolish, but appeals, it 
is true, to the great majority, who without special in- 
tellectual effort imagine themselves cleverer than other 
people. But all that he presents to us, whatever its 
form, bears witness to his rectitude, cheerfulness, and 
equanimity, so that we are always favorably impressed. 
The unbounded admiration of his own times was a con- 
sequence of these moral excellencies. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

It was natural that people should try to discover 
originals for his general descriptions and should suc- 
ceed ; and consequently he was attacked on this score 
by certain individuals : his over-long apologies denying 
that his satire was personal, prove the annoyance to 
which he was subjected. Some of his letters do honor 
to him both as a man and an author. The confidential 
epistle in which he describes the siege of Dresden and 
the loss of his house, his effects, his writings, and his 
wigs, without having his equanimity in the least shaken 
or his cheerfulness clouded, is most estimable, although 
his contemporaries and fellow-citizens could not for- 
give him his happy temperament. The letter in which 
he speaks of the decay of his strength and of his ap- 
proaching death is in the highest degree worthy of re- 
spect, and Rabener Reserves to be honored as a saint 
by all happy sensible people, who cheerfully accept their 
earthly lot. 

I tear myself away from him reluctantly, and merely 
add this remark: his satire refers throughout to the 
middle classes ; he lets us see here and there that he is 
also acquainted with the upper classes, but does not 
hold it advisable to discuss them. It may be said that 
he had no successor; it would be impossible to point 
to any one at all equal, or even similar to him. 

Let us turn to criticism ; and first of all to the theo- 
retic attempts. It is not going too far to say that 
idealism had at that time fled from the world to reli- 
gion; it was hardly discoverable even in ethics; of a 
supreme principle in art no one had a notion. They 
put Gottsched's Critical Art of Poetry into our hands; 
it was useful and instructive enough, for it gave us 
historical information about the various kinds of 

German Literature in Goethe's Youth 

poetry, as well as about rhythm and its different move- 
ments ; poetic genius was taken for granted ! But be- 
sides 'this the poet was to have education, and even 
learning, he should possess taste, and other things of 
the same nature. Finally, we were referred to Hor- 
ace's Art of Poetry; we gazed at single golden maxims 
of this invaluable work with veneration, but did not 
know in the least what to do with it as a whole, or how 
to use it. 

The Swiss came to the front as Gottsched's antag- 
onists ; hence they must intend to do something differ- 
ent, to accomplish something better: accordingly we 
heard that they were, in fact, superior. Breitinger's 
Critical Art of Poetry was now studied. Here we en- 
tered a wider field, or, properly speaking, only a greater 
labyrinth, which was the more wearisome, as an able 
man in whom we had confidence drove us about in it. 
Let a brief review justify these words. 

As yet no one had been able to discover the essential 
principle of poetry ; it was too spiritual and too evanes- 
cent. Painting, an art which one could keep within 
sight, and follow step by step with the external senses, 
seemed more adapted to such an end; the English and 
French had already theorized about the arts of paint- 
ing and sculpture, and it was thought possible to ex- 
plain the nature of poetry by drawing a comparison 
from these arts. Painting presented images to the 
eyes, poetry to the imagination ; poetical images, there- 
fore, were the first thing to be taken into consideration. 
Similes came first, then descriptions and whatever it 
was possible to represent to the external senses came 
under discussion. 

Images, then! But whence should these images be 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

taken except from nature? The painter obviously imi- 
tated nature; why not the poet also? But nature, just 
as she is, cannot be imitated: she contains so much 
that is insignificant and unsuitable, that a selection 
must be made; but what determines the choice? what is 
important must be selected; but what is important? 

The answer to this question the Swiss probably took 
a long time to consider: for they arrived at an idea 
which is indeed strange, but pretty, even amusing; for 
they said what is new is always most important: and 
after they had considered this for a while, they dis- 
covered that the marvelous is always newer than any- 
thing else. 

Apparently they now had the essentials of poetry 
before them, but it had further to be taken into con- 
sideration that the marvelous may be barren and with- 
out human interest. This human interest which is in- 
dispensable must be moral, and would then obviously 
tend to the improvement of man ; hence that poem would 
fulfil its ultimate aim which in addition to its merits 
possessed utility. It was the fulfilment of all these de- 
mands which constituted the test they wished to apply 
to the various kinds of poetry, and that species which 
imitated nature, and furthermore was marvelous, and 
at the same time moral in purpose and effect, they placed 
first and highest. And after much deliberation this 
great preeminence was finally ascribed, with the utmost 
conviction, to ^sop's fables ! 

Strange as such a deduction may now appear, it had 
the most decided influence on the best minds. That 
Gellert and subsequently Lichtwer devoted themselves 
to this department of literature, that even Lessing at- 

German Literature in Goethe's Youth 

tempted to do work in it, that so many others applied 
their talents to it, speaks for the faith they put in this 
species of poetry. Theory and practice always act 
upon each other; one can see from men's works what 
opinions they hold ; and, from their opinions, it is pos- 
sible to predict what they will do. 

Yet we must not dismiss our Swiss theory without 
doing it justice. Bodmer, with all the pains he took, 
remained in theory and practice a child all his life. 
Breitinger was an able, learned, sagacious man, who, 
after making a careful survey, recognized all the re- 
quirements to be fulfilled by a poem; in fact, it can be 
shown that he was dimly conscious of the deficiencies 
of his method. Noteworthy, for instance, is his query, 
whether a certain descriptive poem by Konig, on the 
Review Camp of Augustus the Second, is properly 
speaking a poem; and the answer to it displays good 
sense. But it may serve for his complete justifica- 
tion that, after starting on a wrong track and nearly 
completing his circle, he yet discovers the main issue, 
and at the end of his book, as a kind of supplement, 
feels it incumbent on him to urge the representation of 
manners, character, passions, in short the inner man — 
which surely constitutes the chief theme of poetry. 

It may well be imagined into what perplexity young 
minds were thrown by such maxims torn from their 
contexts, half-understood laws, and random dogmas. 
We clung to examples, and there, too, were no better 
off: the foreign as well as the classical ones were too 
remote from us; behind the best native ones always 
lurked a distinct individuality, the good points of which 
we could not arrogate to ourselves, and into the faults 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

of which we could not but be afraid of falling. For 
any one conscious of productive power it was a des- 
perate condition. 

When one considers carefully what was wanting in 
German poetry, it was a significant theme, especially 
of national import; there was never any lack of gifted 
writers. It is only necessary to mention Giinther, who 
may be called a poet in the full sense of the word. A 
decided genius, endowed with sensuousness, imagination, 
memory, the gifts of conception and representation, 
productive in the highest degree, possessing rhythmic 
fluency, ingenious, witty, and at the same time well- 
informed ; — he possessed, in short, all the requisites for 
creating by his poetry a second life out of the actual 
commonplace life around him. We admire the great 
facility with which, in his occasional poems, he enno- 
bles all situations by appealing to the emotions, and 
embellishes them with suitable sentiments, images, and 
historical and fabulous traditions. The roughness and 
wildness in them belong to his time, his mode of life, 
and especially to his character, or, if you will, his want 
of character. He did not know how to curb himself, 
and so his life, like his poetry, proved ineffectual. 

By his vacillating conduct, Giinther had trifled away 
the good fortune of being appointed at the Court of 
Augustus the Second, where, with their love of magnifi- 
cence, they desired to find a laureate who would impart 
warmth and grace to their festivities, and immortalize 
a transitory pomp. Von Konig was more self-con- 
trolled and more fortunate; he filled this post with 
dignity and success. 

In all sovereign states the material for poetry begins 
with the highest social ranks, and the Remew Camp at 

German Literature in Goethe's YouiU 

Miihlherg was, perhaps, the first worthy subject of pro- 
vincial, if not of national importance which presented 
itself to a poet. Two kings saluting one another in the 
presence of a great host, their whole court and military 
state around them, well-appointed troops, a sham-fight, 
fetes of all kinds, — here was plenty to captivate the 
senses, and matter enough and to spare for descriptive 

This subject, indeed, suffered from an inner defect, 
in that it was only pomp and show, from which no real 
action could result. None except the very highest 
were involved, and even if this had not been the case, 
the poet could not render any one conspicuous lest 
he should olfend the others. He had to consult the 
Court and State Calendar, and the delineation of the 
persons was therefore not particularly exciting; nay, 
even his contemporaries reproached him with having de- 
scribed the horses better than the men. But should 
not the fact that he showed his art as soon as a fitting 
subject presented itself redound to his credit? The 
main difficulty, too, seems soon to have become apparent 
to him — for the poem never advanced beyond the first 

As a result of discussions, examples, and my own 
reflection, I came to see that the first step towards 
escape from the wishy-washy, long-winded, empty epoch 
could be taken only by definiteness, precision, and brev- 
ity. In the style which had hitherto prevailed, it was 
impossible to distinguish the commonplace from what 
was better, since a uniform insipidity prevailed on all 
hands. Authors had already tried to escape from this 
widespread disease, with more or less success. Haller 
and Ramler were inclined to compression by nature; 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Lessing and Wieland were led to it by reflection. The 
former became by degrees quite epigrammatic in his 
poems, terse in Minna, laconic in Emilia Galotti, — it 
was not till later that he returned to that serene naivete 
which becomes him so well in Nathan. Wieland, who 
had been occasionally prolix in Agathon, Don Sylvio, 
and the Comic Tales, became wonderfully condensed and 
precise, as well as exceedingly graceful, in Musarion 
and Idris. Klopstock, in the first cantos of the Messiah, 
is not without diffuseness ; in his Odes and other minor 
poems he appears concise, as also in his tragedies. By 
his emulation of the ancients, especially Tacitus, he was 
constantly forced into narrower limits, so that at last 
he became obscure and unpleasing. Gerstenberg, a rare 
but eccentric genius, also concentrated his powers ; one 
feels his merit, but on the whole he gives little pleasure. 
Gleim, by nature diffuse and easy-going, was scarcely 
once concise in his war-songs. Ramler was properly 
more of a critic than a poet. He began to collect 
what the Germans had accomplished in lyric poetry. 
He discovered that scarcely one poem entirely satisfied 
him; he was obliged to omit, rearrange, and alter, so 
that the things might assume some sort of form. By this 
means he made himself almost as many enemies as there 
are poets and amateurs, since every one, properly 
speaking, recognizes himself only in his defects ; and the 
public takes greater interest in a faulty individuality 
than in what is produced or amended in accordance 
with a universal law of taste. Rhythm was still in its 
cradle, and no one knew of a method to shorten its 
childhood. Poetical prose was gaining ground. Gess- 
ner and Klopstock found many imitators ; others, again, 
still put in a plea for metre, and translated this prose 

German Literature in Goethe's Youth 

into intelligible rhythms. But even these emended ver- 
sions gave nobody satisfaction; for they were obliged 
to omit and add, and the prose original always passed 
for the better of the two. But in all these attempts, 
the greater the conciseness aimed at, the more pos- 
sible is it to criticize them, since whatever is significant 
when presented in a condensed form, in the end admits 
of definite comparison. Another result was the simul- 
taneous appearance of a number of truly poetical forms ; 
for while attempting to reproduce solely whatever was 
essential in any one subject, it was necessary to do 
justice to every subject chosen for treatment, and 
hence, though none did it consciously, the modes of 
representation were multiplied; though some were gro- 
tesque enough, and many an experiment proved unsuc- 

Without question, Wieland possessed the finest natu- 
ral gifts of all. He had developed early in those ideal 
regions in which youth loves to linger; but when so- 
called experience, contact with the world and women, 
spoilt his delight in those realms, he turned to the 
actual, and derived pleasure for himself and others 
from the conflict between the two worlds, where, in 
light encounters, half in earnest, half in jest, his talent 
found fullest scope. How many of his brilliant pro- 
ductions appeared during my student days ! Musarion 
had the greatest effect upon me, and I can yet remember 
the place and the very spot where I looked at the first 
proof-sheet, which Oeser showed me. It was here that 
I seemed to see antiquity living anew before me. Every- 
thing that is plastic in Wieland's genius showed itself 
here in the highest perfection; and since the Timon- 
like hero Phanias, after being condemned to unhappy 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

abstinence, is finally reconciled to his mistress and to 
the world, we may be content to live through the misan- 
thropic epoch with him. For the rest, we were not 
sorry to recognize in these works a cheerful aversion 
to exalted sentiments, which are apt to be wrongly 
applied to life, and then frequently fall under the sus- 
picion of fanaticism. We pardoned the author for pur- 
suing with ridicule what we held to be true and ven- 
erable, the more readily, as he thereby showed that he 
was unable to disregard it. 

What a miserable reception was accorded such efforts 
by the criticism of the time may be seen from the first 
volumes of the Universal German Library. Honorable 
mention is made there of the Comic Tales, but there is 
no trace of any insight into the character of the lit- 
"erary species. The reviewer, like every one at that 
time, had formed his taste on examples. He never 
takes into consideration that in criticizing such paro- 
distical works, it is necessary first of all to have the 
noble, beautiful original before one's eyes, in order to 
see whether the parodist has really discovered in it a 
weak and comical side, whether he has borrowed any- 
thing from it, or whether, under the pretense of imi- 
tation, he has given us an excellent invention of his 
own. Of all this there is not a word, but isolated pas- 
sages in the poems are praised or blamed. The re- 
viewer, as he himself confesses, has marked so much 
that pleased him, that he cannot quote it all in print. 
When they go so far as to greet the exceedingly meri- 
torious translation of Shakespeare with the exclama- 
tion: "By rights, a man like Shakespeare should not 
have been translated at all ! " it will be understood, with- 
out further remark, how immeasurably the Universal 

German Literature in Goethe's Youth 

German Library was behindhand In matters of taste, 
and that young people, animated by true feelings, had 
to look about them for other guiding stars. 

The subject-matter which in this manner more or less 
determined the form was sought by the Germans in 
the most varied quarters. They had handled few na- 
tional subjects, or none at ail. Schlegel's Hermann 
only pointed the way. The idyllic tendency had im- 
mense vogue. The want of distinctive character in 
Gessner, with all his gracefulness and childlike sin- 
cerity, made every one think himself capable of the like. 
In the same manner, those poems which were intended 
to portray a foreign nationality were founded merely 
on a common humanity, as, for instance, the Jewish 
Pastoral Poems, all those on patriarchal subjects, and 
any others based on the Old Testament. Bodmer's 
Noachide was a perfect type of the watery deluge that 
swelled high around the German Parnassus, and abated 
but slowly. Anacreontic dallyings likewise made it 
possible for numberless mediocre writers to meander 
aimlessly in a vague prolixity. The precision of Hor- 
ace compelled the Germans, though but slowly, to con- 
form to him. Neither did the burlesques, modeled, for 
the most part, on Pope's Rape of the Lock, succeed in 
inaugurating better times. 

Yet I must here mention a delusion, which was taken 
as seriously as it appears ridiculous on closer inspec- 
tion. The Germans had now an adequate historical 
knowledge of all the kinds of poetry in which the various 
nations had excelled. This assignment of poetry to its 
respective pigeon-holes — a process in reality fatal to 
its true spirit — had been accomplished with approxi- 
mate completeness by Gottsched in his Critical Art of 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Poetry, and at the same time he had shown that in all 
the divisions were to be found excellent works by Ger- 
man poets. And so it went on. Every year the col- 
lection became more considerable, but every year one 
work ousted some other from the place in which it had 
hitherto shone. We now possessed, if not Homers, yet 
Virgils and Miltons ; if not a Pindar, yet a Horace ; of 
Theocrituses there was no lack ; and thus they soothed 
themselves by comparisons from abroad, whilst the mass 
of poetical works constantly increased, so that at last 
it was possible to make comparisons at home. 

With the cultivation of the German language and 
style in every department, the power of criticism also 
increased ; but while the reviews then published of works 
upon religious and ethical as well as medical subjects 
were admirable, the critiques of poems, and of whatever 
else relates to belles lettres, will be found, if not pitiful, 
at least very feeble. This holds good of the Literary 
Epistles and the Universal German Library, as well as 
of the Library of Belles Lett res, and might easily be 
verified by notable instances. 

However great the confusion of these varied efforts, 
the only thing to be done by any one who contemplated 
producing anything original, and was not content to 
take the words and phrases out of the mouths of his 
predecessors, was to search unremittingly for some 
subject-matter for treatment. Here, too, we were 
greatly misled. People were constantly repeating a say- 
ing of Kleist's, who had rephed playfully, with humor 
and truth, to those who took him to task on account of 
his frequently lonely walks : " that he was not idle at 
such times — he was hunting for images." This simile 
was very suitable for a nobleman and soldier, for in it he 

German Literature in Goethe's YoutJi 

contrasted himself with men of his own rank, who never 
missed an opportunity of going out, with their guns on 
their shoulders, to shoot hares and partridges. Accord- 
ingly we find in Kleist's poems many such individual 
images, happily seized, although not always happily 
elaborated, which remind us pleasantly of nature. But 
now we, too, were admonished quite seriously to go out 
hunting for images, and in the end to some slight pur- 
pose, although Apel's Garden, the Cake Gardens, the 
Rosental, Gohlis, Raschwitz and Konnewitz, were the 
oddest ground in which to beat up poetical game. 
And yet I was often induced from this motive to con- 
trive that my walk should be solitary. But few either 
beautiful or sublime objects met the eye of the be- 
holder, and in the truly splendid Rosental the gnats 
in summer made all gentle thoughts impossible, so 
by dint of unwearied, persevering endeavor, I became 
extremely attentive to the small life of nature (I should 
like to use this word after the analogy of " still life "). 
Since the charming little incidents to be observed 
within this circle are but unimportant in themselves, I 
accustomed myself to see in them a significance, tending 
now towards the symbolical and now towards the alle- 
gorical, according as intuition, feeling, or reflection pre- 

Whilst I was playing the part of shepherd on the 
Pleisse, and was childishly absorbed in such tender sub- 
jects, always choosing such only as I could easily recap- 
ture and lock in my heart, greater and more important 
themes had long before been provided for German 
poets. . 

It was Frederick the Great and the events of the 
Seven Years' War which first gave to German literature 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

a real and noble vitality. All national poetry cannot 
fail to be insipid, or inevitably becomes so, if it is not 
based on the man who stands first among men, upon the 
experiences which come to the nations and their leaders, 
when both stand together as one man. Kings should 
be represented in the midst of warfare and danger, for 
there they are made to appear the highest, just be- 
cause the fate of the lowest depends upon them and is 
shared by them. In this way they become far more in- 
teresting than the gods themselves, who, when they have 
decided the destinies of men, do not share them. In 
this sense every nation that wishes to count for any- 
thing ought to possess an epic, though not necessarily 
in the form of an epic poem. 

The war-songs first sung by Gleim deserve their high 
place in German poetry, because they were the out- 
come of and contemporary with the events they cele- 
brate; and furthermore, because the felicitous form, 
suggestive of a combatant's utterance in the thick of 
the fray, impresses us with its absolute effectiveness. 

Ramler sings in different but dignified strains the 
exploits of his king. All his poems are thoughtful, 
and fill our minds with great and elevating subjects, 
and on that account alone possess an indestructible 

For the significance of the subject treated of is the 
Alpha and Omega of art. Of course, no one will deny 
that genius, or cultivated artistic talent, can by its 
method of treatment make anything out of anything, 
and render the most refractory subject amenable. But 
on close inspection the result is rather an artistic feat 
than a work of art, which latter should be based on a 
fitting subject, so that in the end the skill, the care, 

German Literature in Goethe's Youth 

the diligence of the artist's treatment only brings out 
the dignity of the subject in greater attractiveness and 

Prussians, and with them Protestant Germany, 
therefore gained a treasure-trove for their literature, 
which was lacking to the other party, who have not 
been able to repair the deficiency by subsequent ef- 
forts. In the high idea which they cherished of theii^ 
King, the Prussian writers first found inspiration, 
and fostered it all the more zealously because he in 
whose name they did everything would have nothing 
whatever to say to them. French civilization had 
been widely introduced into Prussia at an earlier date 
by the French colony, and again later by the King's 
preference for French culture and French financial 
methods. The effect of this French influence was to 
rouse the Germans to antagonism and resistance — 
a result decidedly beneficial in its operation. Equally 
fortunate for the development of literature was 
Frederick's antipathy to German. They did every- 
thing to attract the King's attention, not indeed to be 
honored, but only to be noticed by him; yet they did 
it in German fashion, from inner conviction ; they did 
what they held to be right, and desired and wished 
that the King should recognize and prize this as 
right. That did not and could not happen; for how 
can it be expected that a king, who wishes to live 
and enjoy himself intellectually, should waste his years 
waiting to see what he thinks barbarous developed and 
rendered enjoyable too late? In matters of trade and 
manufacture, it is true, he pressed upon himself, but 
especially upon his people, very mediocre substitutes 
instead of excellent foreign wares ; but in this depart- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

ment of life everything is perfected more rapidly, and 
it does not take a man's life-time to bring such things 
to maturity. 

But I must here, first of all, make honorable mention 
of one work, the m.ost genuine product of the Seven 
Years' War, altogether North German in its national 
sentiment ; it is the first dramatic work founded upon 
important events of specific contemporary value, and 
therefore produced an incalculable effect — Minna von 
Barnlielm. Lessing, who, unlike Klopstock and Gleim, 
was fond of laying aside his personal dignity, because he 
was confident that he could resume it at any moment, 
delighted in a dissipated, worldly life and the society 
of taverns, as he always needed some strong external 
excitement to counterbalance his exuberant intellectual 
activity; and for this reason also he had joined the 
suite of General Tauentzien. It is easy to see how 
this drama was generated betwixt war and peace, hatred 
and affection. It was this production which success- 
fully opened to the literary and middle-class world, in 
which poetic art had hitherto moved, a view into a 
higher, more significant world. 

The hostile relations in which Prussians and Saxons 
had stood towards each other during this war, could 
not be removed by its termination. The Saxon now 
felt for the first time the whole bitterness of the wounds 
which the upstart Prussian had inflicted upon him. Po- 
litical peace could not immediately reestablish a peace 
between their hearts. But the establishment of this 
peace was represented symbolically in Lessing's drama. 
The grace and amiability of the Saxon ladies con- 
quer the worth, the dignity, and the stubborness of the 

German Literature in Goethe's Toutli 

Prussians, and, in the principal as well as in the subordi- 
nate characters, a happy union of bizarre and contra- 
dictory elements is artistically represented. 

If I have caused my readers some bewilderment by 
these cursory and desultory remarks on German litera- 
ture, I have succeeded in giving them a conception of 
the chaotic condition of my poor brain at a time when, 
in the conflict of two epochs so important for the na- 
tional literature, so much that was new crowded in upon 
me before I could come to terms with the old, so much 
that was old still maintained its hold upon me, though 
I already believed I might with good reason renounce 
it altogether. 





The Universality of Poetry 

Within the last few days I have read many and vari- 
ous things ; especially a Chinese novel, which occupies 
me still, and seems to me very remarkable. The Chinese 
think, act, and feel almost exactly like ourselves; and 
we soon find that we are perfectly like them, excepting 
that all they do is more clear, more pure and decorous 
than with us. 

With them all is orderly, simple, without great 
passion or poetic flight ; and there is a strong resem- 
blance to my Hermann and Dorothea, as well as to the 
English novels of Richardson. They differ from us, 
however, inasmuch as with them external nature is 
always associated with human figures. You always 
hear the goldfish splashing in the pond, the birds are 
always singing on the bough, the day is always serene 
and sunny, the night is always clear. There is much 
talk about the moon, but it does not alter the land- 
scape, its light is conceived to be as bright as day itself ; 
and the interior of the houses is as neat and elegant 
as their pictures. For instance, " I heard the lovely 
girls laughing, and when I got a sight of them, they 
were sitting on cane chairs." There you have, at once, 
the prettiest situation; for cane chairs are necessarily 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

associated with the greatest h'ghtness and elegance. 
Then there is an infinite number of legends which are 
constantly introduced into the narrative, and are ap- 
plied almost like proverbs; as, for instance, one of a 
girl, who was so light and graceful on her feet that 
she could balance herself on a flower without breaking 
it; and then another, of a young man so virtuous and 
brave that in his thirtieth year he had the honor to 
talk with the Emperor; then there is another of two 
lovers who showed such great purity during a long 
acquaintance that when they were on one occasion 
obliged to pass the night in the same chamber, they 
occupied the time with conversation, and did not ap- 
proach one another. 

And in the same way, there are innumerable other 
legends, all turning upon what is moral and proper. 
It is by this severe moderation in everything that the 
Chinese Empire has sustained itself for thousands of 
years, and will endure hereafter. 

I am more and more convinced that poetry is the 
universal possession of mankind, revealing itself every- 
where, and at all times, in hundreds and hundreds of 
men. One makes it a little better than another, and 
swims on the surface a little longer than another — 
that is all. Herr von Matthisson must not think he is 
the man, nor must I think that I am the man ; but each 
must say to himself that the gift of poetry is by no 
means so very rare, and that nobody need think very 
much of himself because he has written a good poem. 

But, really, we Germans are very likely to fall too 
easily into this pedantic conceit, when we do not 
look beyond the narrow circle which surrounds us. I 
therefore like to look about me in foreign nations, and 

Extracts from Conversations with Echermann 

advise every one to do the same. National literature 
is now rather an unmeaning term ; the epoch of World 
Literature is at hand, and every one must strive to 
hasten its approach. But, while we thus value what 
is foreign, we must not bind ourselves to anything in 
particular, and regard it as a model. We must not 
give this value to the Chinese, or the Servian, or Cal- 
deron, or the Nibelungen ; but if we really want a pat- 
tern, we must always return to the ancient Greeks, in 
whose works the beauty of mankind is constantly rep- 
resented. All the rest we must look at only histori- 
cally, appropriating to ourselves what is good, so far 
as it goes. 

Poetry and Patriotism^ 

To write military songs, and sit in a room ! That 
would have suited me! To have written them in the 
bivouac, when the horses at the enemy's outposts are 
heard neighing at night, would have been well enough; 
however, that was not my life and not my business, 
but that of Theodor Korner. His war-sonojs suit liim 
perfectl3^ But to me, who am not of a warlike nature, 
and who have no warlike sense, war-songs would have 
been a mask which would have fitted my face very 

I have never affected anything in my poetry. I 
have never uttered anything which I have not experi- 
enced, and which has not urged me to production. I 
have only composed love-songs when I have loved. How 
could I write songs of hatred without hating! And, 
between ourselves, I did not hate the French, although 

1 Goethe had been reproached " for not taking up arms in the 
German War of Liberation, or at least cooperating as a poet." 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

I thanked God that we were free from them. How 
could I, to whom culture and barbarism are alone of 
importance, hate a nation which is among the most 
cultivated of the earth, and to which I owe so great 
a part of mj own culture? 

Altogether, national hatred is something peculiar. 
You will always find it strongest and most violent where 
there is the lowest degree of culture. But there is a 
degree where it vanishes altogether, and where one 
stands to a certain extent above nations, and feels the 
weal or woe of a neighboring people, as if it had hap- 
pened to one's own. This degree of culture was con- 
formable to my nature, and I had become strengthened 
in it long before I had reached my sixtieth year. 

It is better for us moderns to say with Napoleon, 
" Politics are Destiny." But let us beware of say- 
ing, with our latest literati, that politics are poetry, 
or a suitable subject for the poet. The English poet 
Thomson wrote a very good poem on the Seasons, but 
a very bad one on Liberty, and that not from want 
of poetry in the poet, but from want of poetry in the 

If a poet would work politically, he must give him- 
self up to a party; and so 'soon as he does that he is 
lost as a poet; he must bid farewell to his free spirit, 
his unbiased view, and draw over his ears the cap of 
bigotry and blind hatred. 

The poet, as a man and citizen, will love his native 
land ; but the native land of his poetic powers and poetic 
action is the good, noble, and beautiful, which is con- 
fined to no particular province or country, and which 
he seizes upon and forms wherever he finds it. Therein 

Extracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

is he like the eagle, who hovers with free gaze over 
whole countries, and to whom it is of no consequence 
whether the hare on which he pounces is running in 
Prussia or in Saxony. 

And, then, what is meant by love of one's country? 
what is meant by patriotic deeds? If the poet has 
employed a life in battling with pernicious prejudices, 
in setting aside narrow views, in enlightening the minds, 
purifying the tastes, ennobling the feelings and thoughts 
of his countrymen, what better could he have done? 
how could he have acted more patriotically? 

Poetry and History 

Manzoni wants nothing except to know what a good 
poet he is, and what rights belong to him as such. He 
has too much respect for history, and on this account 
always adds explanations to his pieces, in which he 
shows how faithful he has been to detail. Now, though 
his facts may be historical, his characters are not so, 
any more than my Thoas and Iphigenia. No poet 
has ever known the historical characters which he has 
painted; if he had, he could scarcely have made use 
of them. The poet must know what effects he wishes 
to produce, and regulate the nature of his characters 
accordingly. If I had tried to make Egmont as his- 
tory represents him, the father of a dozen children, 
his light-minded proceedings would have appeared very 
absurd. I needed an Egmont more in harmony with 
his own actions and my poetic views ; and this is, as 
Clara says, my Egmont. 

What would be the use of poets, if they only re- 
peated the record of the historian? The poet must go 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

further, and give us, if possible, something higher and 
better. All the characters of Sophocles bear some- 
thing of that great poet's lofty soul; and it is the 
same with the characters of Shakespeare. This is as 
it ought to be. Nay, Shakespeare goes farther, and 
makes his Romans Englishmen; and there, too, he is 
right ; for otherwise his nation would not have under- 
stood him. 

Here again the Greeks were so great that they re- 
garded fidelity to historic facts less than the treat- 
ment of them by the poet. We have a fine ex- 
ample in Philoctetes, which subject has been treated 
by all three of the great tragic poets, and lastly 
and best by Sophocles. This poet's excellent play has, 
fortunately, come down to us entire, while of the 
Philoctetes of ^schylus and Euripides only fragments 
have been found, although sufficient to show how they 
have managed the subject. If time permitted, I would 
restore these pieces, as I did the Phaeton of Euripides ; 
it would be to me no unpleasant or useless task. 

In this subject the problem was very simple, namely, 
to bring Philoctetes, with his bow, from the island of 
Lemnos. But the manner of doing this was the busi- 
ness of the poet, arid here each could show the power 
of his invention, and one could excel another. Ulysses 
must fetch him ; but shall he be recognized by Philoctetes 
or not? and if not, how shall he be disguised? Shall 
Ulysses go alone, or shall he have companions, and who 
shall they be? In ^'schylus the companion is unknown ; 
in Euripides, it is Diomed ; in Sophocles, the son of 
Achilles. Then, in what situation is Philoctetes to be 
found ? Shall the island be inhabited or not ? and, if in- 
habited, shall any sympathetic soul have taken compas- 

Extracts from Conversations with Echermann 

sion on him or not? And so with a hundred other things, 
which are all at the discretion of the poet, and in the 
selection and omission of which one may show his supe- 
riority in wisdom to another. This is the important 
point, and the poets of to-day should do like the an- 
cients. They should not be always asking whether a 
subject has been used before, and look to south and 
north for unheard-of adventures, which are often bar- 
barous enough, and merely make an impression as inci- 
dents. But to make something of a simple subject by 
a masterly treatment requires intellect and great talent, 
and these we do not find. 


The Germans cannot cease to be Philistines. They are 
now squabbling about some distichs, which are printed 
both in Schiller's works and mine, and fancy it is im- 
portant to ascertain which really belong to Schiller 
and which to me; as if anything could be gained by 
such investigation — as if the existence of such things 
were not enough. Friends like Schiller and myself, inti- 
mate for years, with the same interests, in habits of daily 
intercourse, and under reciprocal obligations, live so 
completely in one another that it is hardly possible 
to decide to which of the two the particular thoughts 

We have made many distiches together; sometimes I 
gave the thought, and Schiller made the verse ; some- 
times the contrary was the case; sometimes he made 
one line, and I the other. What matters the mine 
and thine? One must be a thorough Philistine, indeed, 
to attach the slightest importance to the solution of 
such questions. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

We are indeed born with faculties ; but we owe our 
development to a thousand influences of the great world, 
from which we appropriate to ourselves what we can, 
and what is suitable to us. I owe much to the Greeks 
and French; I am infinitely indebted to Shakespeare, 
S.teme, and Goldsmith; but in saying this I do not ex- 
haust the sources of my culture; that would be an end- 
less as well as an unnecessary task. We might as well 
question a strong man about the oxen, sheep, and swine 
which he has eaten, and which have given him strength. 
What is important is to have a soul which loves truth, 
and receives it wherever it finds it. 

Besides, the world is now so old, so many eminent 
men have lived and thought for thousands of years, 
that there is little new to be discovered or expressed. 
Even my theory of colors is not entirely new. Plato, 
Leonardo da Vinci, and many other excellent men, have 
before me found and expressed the same thing in a 
detached form: my merit is that I have found it also, 
that I have said it again, and that I have striven to 
bring the truth once more into a confused world. 

The truth must be repeated over and over again, 
because error is repeatedly preached among us, not only 
by individuals, but by the masses. In periodicals and 
cyclopedias, in schools and universities, everywhere, in 
fact, error prevails, and is quite easy in the feeling 
that it has a decided majority on its side. 

People are always talking about originality; but 
what do they mean? As soon as we are born, the world 
begins to work upon us, and this goes on to the end. 
And, after all, what can we call our own except energy, 
strength, and will? If I could give an account of all 

Extracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

that I owe to great predecessors and contemporaries, 
there would be but a small balance in my favor. 

However, the time of life in which we are subjected 
to a new and important personal influence is, by 
no means, a matter of indifference. That Lessing, 
Winckelmann, and Kant were older than I, and that 
the first two acted upon my youth, the latter on my 
advanced age, — this circumstance was for me very im- 
portant. Again, that Schiller was so much younger 
than I, and engaged in his freshest strivings just as I 
began to be weary of the world — just, too, as the broth- 
ers von Humboldt and Schlegel were beginning their ca- 
reer under my eye — was of the greatest importance. I 
derived from it unspeakable advantages. 

What seduces young people is this. We live in a 
time in which so much culture is diffused that it has com- 
municated itself, as it were, to the atmosphere which 
a young man breathes. Poetical and philosophic 
thoughts live and move within him, he has sucked them 
in with his very breath, but he thinks they are his 
own property, and utters them as such. But after 
he has restored to the time what he has received from 
it, he remains poor. He is like a fountain which plays 
for a while with »the water with which it is supplied, 
but which ceases to flow as soon as the liquid treasure 
is exhausted. 

The critic of Le Temps has not been so wise. He 
presumes to point out to the poet the way he should 
go. This is a great fault ; for one cannot thus make 
him better. After all, there is nothing more foolish 
than to say to a poet : " You should have done this in 
this way — and that in that." I speak from long ex- 


Goethe's Literary "Essays 

perience. One can never make anything of a poet 
but what nature has intended him to be. If you force 
him to be another, you will destroy him. Now, the 
gentlemen of the Globe, as I said before, act very wisel}-. 
They print a long list of all the commonplaces which 
M. Arnault has picked up from every hole and corner; 
and by doing this they very cleverly point out the rock 
which the author has to avoid in future. It is almost 
impossible, in the present day, to find a situation which 
is thoroughly new. It is merely the manner of looking 
at it, and the art of treating and representing it, which 
can be new, and one must be the more cautious of every 

Personality in Art 

You have before you the works of very fair talents, 
who have learned something, and have acquired no little 
taste and art. Still, something is wanting in all these 
pictures — the Manly. Take notice of this word, and 
underscore it. The pictures lack a certain urgent 
power, which in former ages was generall}^ expressed, 
but in which the present age is deficient, and that with 
respect not only to painting, but to all the other arts. 
We have a more weakly race, of whifh we cannot say 
whether it is so by its origin, or by a more weakly 
training and diet. 

Personality is everything in art and poetry; never- 
theless, there are many weak personages among the mod- 
ern critics who do not admit this, but look upon a 
great personality in a work of poetry or art merely as 
a kind of trifling appendage. 

However, to feel and respect a great personality one 
must be something oneself. All those who denied the 

Eodtracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

sublime to Euripides were either poor wretches incapa- 
ble of comprehending such sublimity, or shameless char- 
latans, who, by their presumption, wished to make more 
of themselves, and really did make more of themselves 
than they were. 

The Sub ject-M after of Poetry 

The world is so great and rich, and life so full of 
variety, that you can never want occasions for poems. 
But they must all be occasional poems ; that is to say, 
reality must give both impulse and material for their 
production. A particular case becomes universal and 
poetic by the very circumstance that it is treated by 
a poet. All my poems are occasional poems, suggested 
by real life, and having therein a firm foundation. I 
attach no value to poems snatched out of the air. 

Let no one say that reality wants poetical interest; 
for in this the poet proves his vocation, that he has the 
art to win from a common subject an interesting side. 
Reality must give the motive, the points to be expressed, 
the kernel, as I may say ; but to work out of it a beau- 
tiful, animated whole, belongs to the poet. You know 
Fiirnstein, called the Poet of Nature; he has written 
the prettiest poem possible on the cultivation of hops. 
I have now proposed to him to make songs for the 
different crafts of working-men, particularly a weav- 
er's song, and I am sure he will do it well, for he has 
lived among such people from his youth ; he understands 
the subjects thoroughly, and is therefore master of his 
material. That is exactly the advantage of small 
works; you need only choose those subjects of which 
you are master. With a great poem, this cannot be: 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

no part can be evaded; all which belongs to the ani- 
mation of the whole, and is interwoven into the plan, 
must be represented with precision. In youth, how- 
ever, the knowledge of things is only one-sided. A 
great work requires many-sidedness, and on that rock 
the young author splits. 

I especially warn you against great inventions of 
your own; for then you would try to give a view of 
things, and for that purpose youth is seldom ripe. 
Further, character and views detach themselves as sides 
from the poet's mind, and deprive him of the fullness 
requisite for future productions. And, finally, how 
much time is lost in invention, internal arrangement, 
and combination, for which nobody thanks us, even 
supposing our work is happily accomplished. 

With a given material, on the other hand, all goes 
easier and better. Facts and characters being pro- 
vided, the poet has only the task of animating the 
whole. He preserves his own fullness, for he needs to 
part with but little of himself, and there is much less 
loss of time and energy, since he has only the trouble 
of execution. Indeed, I would advise the choice of sub- 
jects which have been worked before. How many 
Iphigenias have been written ! yet they are all differ- 
ent, for each writer considers and arranges the sub- 
ject differently; namely, after his own fashion. 

The majority of our young poets have no fault but 
this, that their subjectivity is not important, and that 
they cannot find matter in the objective. At best, they 
only find a material which is similar to themselves, which 
corresponds to their own subjectivity; but as for tak- 


Extracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

ing the material on its own account, merely because it 
is poetical, even when it is repugnant to their subjec- 
tivity, such a thing is never thought of. 

Our German agstheticians are always talking about 
poetical and unpoetical objects; and, in one respect, 
they are not quite wrong; yet, at bottom, no real object 
is unpoetical, if the poet knows how to use it properly. 

The Influence of Enmronment 

If a talent is to be speedily and happily developed, 
the great point is that a great deal of intellect and 
sound culture should be current in a nation. 

We admire the tragedies of the ancient Greeks ; but, 
to take a correct view of the case, we ought rather ta 
admire the period and the nation in which their produc- 
tion was possible than the individual authors; for 
though these pieces differ a little from each other, and 
one of these poets appears somewhat greater and more 
finished than the other, still, taking all things together, 
only one decided character runs through the whole. 

This is the character of grandeur, fitness, soundness, 
human perfection, elevated wisdom, sublime thought, 
clear, concrete vision, and whatever other qualities one 
might enumerate. But when we find all these qualities, 
not only in the dramatic works that have come down 
to us, but also in lyrical and epic works, in the philoso- 
phers, the orators, and the historians, and in an equally 
high degree in the works of plastic art that have come 
down to us, we must feel convinced that such qualities 
did not merely belong to individuals, but were the cur- 
rent property of the nation and the whole period. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Now, take up Burns. How is he great, except 
through the circumstance that the old songs of his 
predecessors lived in the mouth of the people, — that 
they were, so to speak, sung at his cradle; that, as a 
boy, he grew up amongst them, and the high excellence 
of these models so pervaded him that he had therein a 
living basis on which he could proceed further? Again, 
why is he great, but from this, that his own songs at 
once found susceptible ears amongst his compatriots ; 
that, sung by reapers and sheaf-binders, they at once 
greeted him in the field; and that his boon-companions 
sang them to welcome him at the alehouse? Something 
was certainly to be done in this way. 

On the other hand, what a pitiful figure is made by 
us Germans ! Of our old songs — no less important than 
those of Scotland — how many lived among the people 
in the days of my youth? Herder and his successors 
first began to collect them and rescue them from ob- 
livion ; then they were at least printed in the libraries. 
Then, more lately, what songs have not Burger and 
Voss composed ! Who can say that they are more in- 
significant or less popular than those of the excellent 
Burns? but which of them so lives among us that it 
greets us from the mouth of the people? — they are 
written and printed, and they remain in the libraries, 
quite in accordance with the general fate of German 
poets. Of my own songs, how many live? Perhaps 
one or another of them may be sung by a pretty girl 
at the piano ; but among the people, properly so called, 
they have no sound. With what sensations must I re- 
member the time when passages from Tasso were sung 
to me by Italian fishermen! 

We Germans are of yesterday. We have indeed been 

Extracts from Conversations with Echermann 

properly cultivated for a century; but a few centuries 
more must still elapse before so much mind and elevated 
culttire will become universal amongst our people that 
they will appreciate beauty like the Greeks, that they 
will be inspired by a beautiful song, and that it will 
be said of them " it is long since they were barbarians." 

Culture and Morals 

The audacity and grandeur of Byron must certainly 
tend towards Culture. We should take care not to 
be always looking for it in only what is decidedly pure 
and moral. Everything that is great promotes culti- 
vation as soon as we are aw are of it. 

Classic and Romantic 

A new expression occurs to me which does not ill 
define the state of the case. I call the classic healths/, 
the romantic sickly. In this sense, the Nibelungenlied 
is as classic as the Iliad, for both are vigorous and 
healthy. Most modern productions are romantic, not 
because they are new, but because they are weak, mor- 
bid, and sickly ; and the antique is classic, not because 
it is old, but because it is strong, fresh, joyous, and 
healthy. If we distinguish " classic " and " romantic " 
by these qualities, it will be easy to see our way clearly. 

This is a pathological work; a superfluity of sap is 
bestowed on some parts which do not require it, and 
drawn out of those which stand in need of it. The sub- 
ject was good, but the scenes which I expected were not 
there ; while others, which I did not expect, were elabo- 
rated with assiduity and love. This is what I call 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

pathological, or " romantic," if you would rather speak 
according to our new theory. 

The French now begin to think justly of these mat- 
ters. Both classic and romantic, say they, are equally 
good. The only point is to use these forms with judg- 
ment, and to be capable of excellence. You can be ab- 
surd in both, and then one is as worthless as the other. 
This, I think, is rational enough, and may content us 
for a while. 

The idea of the distinction between classical and 
romantic poetry, which is now spread over the whole 
world, and occasions so many quarrels and divisions, 
came originally from Schiller and myself. I laid down 
the maxim of objective treatment in poetry, and would 
allow no other; but Schiller, who worked quite in the 
subjective way, deemed his own fashion the right one, 
and to defend himself against me, wrote the treatise 
upon Naive and Sentimental Poetry. He proved to me 
that I myself, against my will, was romantic, and that 
my Iphigenia, through the predominance of sentiment, 
was by no means so classical and so much in the an- 
tique spirit as some people supposed. 

The Schlegels took up this idea, and carried it fur- 
ther, so that it has now been diffused over the whole 
world ; and every one talks about classicism and roman- 
ticism — of which nobody thought fifty years ago. 


This is the way to cultivate what we call taste. 
Taste is only to be educated by contemplation, not of 

Extracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

the tolerably good, but of the truly excellent. I there- 
fore show you only the best works; and when you are 
grounded in these, you will have a standard for the rest, 
which you will know how to value, without overrating 
them. And I show you the best in each class, that you 
may perceive that no class is to be despised, but that 
each gives delight when a man of genius attains its high- 
est point. For instance, this piece, by a French artist, 
is galant, to a degree which you see nowhere else, and 
is therefore a model in its way. 


On the whole, philosophical speculation is injurious 
to the Germans, as it tends to make their style abstract, 
difficult, and obscure. The stronger their attachment 
to certain philosophical schools, the worse they write. 
Those Germans who, as men of business and actual life, 
confine themselves to the practical, write the best. 
Schiller's style is most noble and impressive whenever he 
leaves off philosophizing, as I observe every day in his 
highly interesting letters, with which I am now busy. 

There are also among the German women talented 
beings who write a really excellent style, and, indeed, 
in that respect surpass many of our celebrated male 

The English almost always write well, being born 
orators and practical men, with a tendency to the reaL 

The French, in their style, remain true to their gen- 
eral character. They are of a social nature, and there- 
fore never forget the public whom they address; they 
strive to be clear,* that they may convince their reader 
— agreeable, that they may please him. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Altogether, the style of a writer is a faithful repre- 
sentative of his mind; therefore, if any man wishes to 
write a clear style, let him first be clear in his thoughts : 
and if any would write in a noble style, let him first 
possess a noble soul. 

Intellect and Imagination 

I wonder what the German critics will say [of this 
poetic inconsistency]. Will they have freedom and bold- 
ness enough to get over this ? Intellect will stand in the 
way of the French; they will not consider that the 
imagination has its own laws, to which the intellect 
cannot, and should not, penetrate. 

If imagination did not originate things which must 
ever be problems to the intellect, there would be 
but little for the imagination to do. It is this which 
separates poetry from prose ; and it is in the latter that 
the intellect always is, and always should be, at home. 

Definition of Poetry 

What need of much definition? Lively feeling of sit- 
uations, and power to express them, make the poet. 

Definition of Beauty 

1 cannot help laughing at the aestheticians, who tor- 
ment themselves in endeavoring, by some abstract words, 
to reduce to a conception that inexpressible thing to 
which we give the name of beauty. Beauty is a prime- 
val phenomenon, which itself never makes its appear- 
ance, but the reflection of which is visible in a thousand 
diff^erent utterances of the creative mind, and is as va- 
rious as nature herself. 

Extracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

Architecture and Music 

I Irave found a paper of mine among some others, 
in which I call architecture " petrified music." ^ Really 
there is something in this ; the tone of mind produced 
by architecture approaches the effect of music. 

Primitive Poetry 

From these old-German gloomy times we can obtain 
as little as from the Servian songs, and similar barbaric 
popular poetry. We can read it and be interested 
about it for a while, but merely to cast it aside, and 
let it lie behind us. Generally speaking, a man is quite 
sufficiently saddened by his own passions and destiny, 
and need not make himself more so by the darkness 
of a barbaric past. He needs enlightening and cheer- 
ing influences, and should therefore turn to those eras 
in art and literature, during which remarkable men ob- 
tained perfect culture, so that they were satisfied with 
themselves, and able to impart to others the blessings 
of their culture. 

W eltliteratwr 

We [Germans] are weakest in the aesthetic depart- 
ment, and may wait long before we meet such a man as 
Carlyle. It is pleasant to see that intercourse is now 
so close between the French, English, and Germans, 
that we shall be able to correct one another. This is 
the greatest use of a World Literature, which will show 
itself more and more. 

1 " Architecture is music in space, as it were a frozen music."— 
Schelling's Philosophic der Kunst. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Carlyle has written a life of Schiller, and judged him 
as it would be difficult for a German to judge him. On 
the other hand, we are clear about Shakespeare and 
Byron, and can, perhaps, appreciate their merits bet- 
ter than the English themselves. 

French Critics 

I am now really curious to know what the gentlemen 
of the Globe will say of this novel. They are clever 
enough to perceive its excellencies ; and the whole tend- 
ency of the work is so much grist to the mill of these 
liberals, although Manzoni has shown himself very mod- 
erate. Nevertheless, the French seldom receive a work 
with such pure kindliness as we; they cannot readily 
adapt themselves to the author's point of view, but, even 
in the best, always find something which is not to their 
mind, and which the author should have done other- 

What men these writers in the Globe are! One has 
scarcely a notion how much greater and more remark- 
able they become every day, and how much, as it were, 
they are imbued with one spirit. Such a paper would 
be utterly impossible in Germany. We are mere indi- 
viduals; harmony and concert are not to be thought 
of; each has the opinions of his province, his city, and 
his own idiosyncrasy ; and it will be a long while be- 
fore we have attained an universal culture. 

The Construction of a Good Play 

When a piece makes a deep impression on us in read- 
ing, we think that it will do the same on the stage, and 

Extracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

that such a result can be obtained with little trouble. 
But this is by no means the case. A pie ce that is n ot 
originally, by the intent and ski ll of thej)oet, wri tten 
for the boards, will not 5UCOeedT15iit whateve ris done to 
it will always remain s'omething'unmanageable. What 
trouble have I taken with my'Goetz von Berlichingen! 
Yet it will not quite do as an acting play; it is too 
long; and I have been forced to divide it into two 
parts, of which the last is indeed theatrically effective, 
while the first is to be looked upon as a mere introduc- 
tion. If the first part were given only once as an in- 
troduction, and then the second repeatedly, it might 
succeed. It is the same with Wallenstein; the Picco- 
lomini does not bear repetition, but Wallenstein' s Death 
is always seen with delight. 

The construction of a pl ay must be symbolical; that 
is to say, each incident must be significant in itself, 
and lead to anothe r still more importan t. The Tartuffe 
of Moliere is, in this respect, a great example. Only 
think what an introduction is the first scene! From 
the very beginning everything is highly significant, and 
leads us to expect something still more important which 
is to come. The beginning of Lessing's Minna von 
Barnhelm is also admirable; but that of Tartuffe 
is absolutely unique: it is the greatest and best^tHing 
t hat exists of the kind. 

In Calderon you find the same perfect adaptation 
to the theatre. His pieces are throughout fit for the 
boards ; there is not a touch in them which is not di- 
rected towards the required effect. Calderon is a genius 
who had also the finest understanding. 

Shakespeare wrote his plays direct from his own 
nature. Then, too, his age and the existing arrange- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

ments of the stage made no demands upon him ; people 
were forced to put up with whatever he gave them. But 
if Shakespeare had written for the court of Madrid, 
or for the theatre of Louis XIV, he would probably 
have adapted himself to a severer theatrical form. jThis, 
however, is by no means to be regretted, for what 
"^-Shakespeare has lost as a theatrical poet he has gained 
as a poet in general. Shakespeare is a great psycholo- 
gist, and we learn from his pieces what really moves the 
hearts of men^j 

Dramatic Unities 

He [Byron] understood the purpose of this law no 
better than the rest of the world. Com^rehensibility 
[das Fassliche'\ is _the purpose, and the t h]:££_jinities 
are onlyso far good as they conduce to this end. If 
the observance of them innders the^oinpfehensiOTr-ef 
a wor^ it is fo olisK to tfeart~them as laws, aji5 to try 
to observe them. Even the Greeks, from whom the rule 
was taken, did not always follow it. In the Phaethon 
of Euripides, and in other pieces, there is a change of 
place, and it is obvious that good representation of 
their subject was with them more important than blind 
obedience to law, which, in itself, is of no great conse- 
quence. The pieces of Shakespeare deviate, as far as 
possible, from the unities of time and place; but they 
are comprehensible — nothing more so — and on this ac- 
count the Greeks would have found no fault in them. 
The French poets have endeavored to follow most rig- 
idly the laws of the three unities, but they sin against 
comprehensibility, inasmuch as they solve a dramatic 
law, not dramatically, but by narration. 


Extracts from Conversations with Echermann 

The Theatre 

Any one who is sufficiently young, and who is not quite 
spoiled, could not easily find any place that would suit 
him so well as a theatre. No one asks you any ques- 
tions : you need not open your mouth unless you choose; 
on the contrary, you sit quite at your ease like a king, 
and let everything pass before you, and recreate your 
mind and senses to your heart's content. There is 
poetry, there is painting, there are singing and music, 
there is acting, and what not besides. When all these 
arts, and the charm of youth and beauty heightened 
to an important degree, work in concert on the same 
evening, it is a bouquet to which no other can compare. 
But even when part is bad and part is good. It is still 
better than looking out of the window, or playing a 
game of whist in a close party amid the smoke of 


It is a great error to think that an indifferent piece 

may be played by indifferent actors. A.second oxJibJrd 

rate play can be incredibly improved by the employ- 

me nt of first-rate talents, and be made ^omefKing~really 

good . But if a second or third rate play be performed 

by second or third rate actors, no one can wonder if 

it is utterly ineffective. 

/■ Second-rate actors are excellent in great plays. 

J They have the same effect that the figures in half shade 

/ have in a picture ; they serve admirably to show off 

>more powerfully those which have the full light. 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

Dramatic Situations 

Gozzi maintained that there are only thirty-six trag- 
ical situations. Schiller took the greatest pains to find 
more, but he did not find even so many as Gozzi. 

Management of the Theatre 

The Grand Duke disclosed to me his opinion that a 
theatre need not be of architectural magnificence, which 
could not be contradicted. He further said that it was 
after all but a house for the purpose of getting money. 
This view appears at first sight rather material; but 
rightly considered, it is not without a higher purport. 
For if a .theatre is not only to pay its expenses, but is, 
besides, to make and save money, everything about it 
must be excellent. It must have the best management 
at its head; the actors must be of the best; and good 
pieces must continually be performed, that the attrac- 
tive power required to draw a full house every evening 
may never cease. But that is saying a great deal in a 
few words — almost what is impossible. 

Even Shakespeare and Moliere had no other view. 
Both of them wished, above all things, to make money 
out of their theatres. In order to attain this, their prin- 
cipal aim, they necessarily strove that everything should 
be as good as possible, and that, besides good old plays, 
there should be some worthy novelty to please and 

Nothing is more dangerous to the well-being of a 
theatre than when the director is so placed that a 
greater or less receipt at the treasury does not affect 
him personally, and he can live on in careless security, 
knowing that, however the receipts at the treasury may 

Ewtracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

fail in the course of the year, at the end of that time 
he will be able to indemnify himself from another source. 
It is a property of human nature soon to relax when 
not impelled by personal advantage or disadvantage. 


I know no one, after Sophocles, whom I love so well. 
He is thoroughly pure, noble, great, and cheerful, and 
his grace is inimitable. It is certainly to be lamented 
that we possess so little of him, but that little is invalu- 
able, and highly instructive to gifted men. 


The great point is that he from whom we would learn 
should be congenial to our nature. Now, Calderon, for 
instance, great as he is, and much as I admire him, has 
exerted no influence over me for good or for ill. But 
he would have been dangerous to Schiller — he would 
have led him astray; and hence it is fortunate that 
Calderon was not generally known in Germany till after 
Schiller's death. Calderon is infinitely great in the 
technical and theatrical; Schiller, on the contrary, far 
more sound, earnest, and great in his intention, and 
it would have been a pity if he had lost any of these 
virtues, without, after all, attaining the greatness of 
Calderon in other respects. 


Moliere is so great that one is astonisheil anew every 
time one reads him. He is a man by himself — ^his pieces 
border on tragedy; they are apprehensive; and no one 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

has the courage to imitate them. His Miser, where the 
vice destroys all the natural piety between father and 
son, is especially great, and in a high sense tragic. 
But when, in a German paraphrase, the son is changed 
into a relation, the whole is weakened, and loses its sig- 
nificance. They feared to show the vice in its true na- 
ture, as he did; but what is tragic there, or indeed 
anywhere, except what is intolerable? 

I read some pieces of Moliere's every year, just as, 
from time to time, I contemplate the engravings after 
the great Italian masters. For we little men are not 
a ble to retai n the greatne ss of su ch j thing[g_within our- 
silY£s ;_ W-e_?21L'it-t]if^^^^^^ rpfnrn tp thp^ri iT^Qg^LjJIT^ to 
(J tim£j..ai3d renew onrig^jiessions. 

'NjcA^^'^^^ If we, for our modern purposes, wish to learn how 
57. to conduct ourselves upon the theatre, Moliere is the 
aX^ man to whom we should apply. 

) Do you know his Malade Imaginaire? There is a 
scene in it which, as often as I read the piece, appears 
to me the symbol of a perfect knowledge of the boards. 
I mean the scene where the " malade imaginaire " asks 
his little daughter Louison if there has not been a young 
man in the chamber of her eldest sister. 

Now, any other who did not understand his craft so 
well would have let the little Louison plainly tell the 
fact at once, and there would have been the end of the 

But what various motives for delay are introduced by 
Moliere into this examination, for the sake of life and 
effect. He first makes the little Louison act as if she 
did not understand her father; then she denies that she 
knows anything ; then, threatened with the rod, she falls 

Eartracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

down as if dead ; then, when her father bursts out in 
despair, she springs up from her feigned swoon with 
rogufsh hilarity, and at last, little by little, she con- 
fesses all. 

My explanation can only give you a very meagre no- 
tion of the animation of the scene ; but read this scene 
yourself till you become thoroughly impressed with its 
theatrical worth, and you will confess that there is more 
practical instruction contained in it than in all the 
theories in the world. 

I have known and loved Moliere from my youth, and 
have learned from him during my whole life. I never 
fail to read some of his plays every year, that I may 
keep up a constant intercourse with what is excellent. 
It is not merely the perfectly artistic treatment which 
delights me ; but particularly the amiable nature, the 
highly-formed mind, of the poet. There is in him a 
grace and a feeling for the decorous, and a tone of 
good society, which his innate beautiful nature could 
only attain by daily intercourse with the most eminent 
men of his age. Of Menander, I only know the few 
fragments ; but these give me so high an idea of him 
that I look upon this great Greek as the only man who 
could be compared to Moliere. 


We cannot talk about Shakespeare; everything is 
inadequate. I have touched upon the subject in my 
Wilhelm Meister, but that is not saying much. He is 
Tiot a theatrical poet; he never thought of the stage; 
it was far too narrow, for his_gr eat juind : nay^ the wkole 
visible world was too narrow. 



Goethe's Literary Essays 

He is even too rich and too powerful. A productive 
\ nature ought not to read more than one of his dramas 
, in a year if it would not be wrecked entirely. I did well 
\to get rid of him by writing Goetz and Egmont, and 
!Byron did well by not having too much respect and 
admiration for him, but going his own way. How many 
excellent Germans have been ruined by him and Cal- 
deron ! 

Shakespeare gives us golden apples in silver dishes. 
We get, indeed, the silver dishes by studying his works ; 
but, unfortunately, we have only potatoes to put into 

Macbeth is Shakespeare's best acting play, the one 
in which he shows most understanding with respect to 
the stage. But would you see his mind unfettered, read 
Troilus and Cressida, where he treats the materials of 
the Iliad in his own fashion. 

A, W. SchlegeVs Lectures on Dramatic Art and 

It is not to be denied that Schlegel knows a great 
deal, and one is almost terrified at his extraordinary 
attainments and his extensive reading. But this is not 
enough. Learning in itself does not constitute judg- 
ment. His criticism is completely one-sided, because 
in all theatrical pieces he merely regards the skeleton 
of the plot and arrangement, and only points out small 
points of resemblance to great predecessors, without 
troubling himself in the least as to what the author 
brings forward of graceful life and the culture of a 
high soul. But of what use are all the arts of genius, 

Extracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

if we do not find in a theatrical piece an amiable or 
great personality of the author? This alone influences 
the cultivation of the people. 

I look upon the manner in which Schlegel has treated 
the French drama as a sort of recipe for the formation 
of a bad critic, who is wanting in every organ for the 
veneration of excellence, and who passes over an able 
personality and a great character as if they were chafF 
and stubble. 

The French Romanticists 

Extremes are never to be avoided in any revolution. 
In a political one nothing is generally desired in the 
beginning but the abolition of abuses ; but before people 
are aware, they are deep in bloodshed and horror. Thus 
the French, in their present literary revolution, desired 
nothing at first but a freer form; however, they will 
not stop there, but will reject the traditional contents 
together with the form. They begin to declare the 
representation of noble sentiments and deeds as tedious, 
and attempt to treat of all sorts of abominations. In- 
stead of the beautiful subjects from Grecian mythology, 
there are devils, witches, and vampires, and the lofty 
heroes of antiquity must give place to jugglers and 
galley slaves. This is piquant ! This is effective ! But 
after the public has once tasted this highly seasoned 
food, and has become accustomed to it, it will always 
long for more, and that stronger. A young man of 
talent, who would produce an efl'ect and be acknowl- 
edged, and who is great enough to go his own way, 
must accommodate himself to the taste of the day — 
nay, must seek to outdo his predecessors in the horrible 
and frightful. But in this chase after outward means 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

of effect, all profound study, and all gradual and thor- 
ough development of the talent and the man from 
within, is entirely neglected. And this is the greatest 
injury which can befall a talent, although literature 
in general will gain by this tendency of the moment. 

The extremes and excrescences which I have described 
will gradually disappear ; but this great advantage will 
finally remain — besides a freer form, richer and more 
diversified subjects will have been attained, and no 
object of the broadest world and the most manifold 
life will be any longer excluded as unpoetical. I com- 
pare the present literary epoch to a state of violent 
fever, which is not in itself good and desirable, but 
of which improved health is the happy consequence. 
That abomination which now often constitutes the whole 
subject of a poetical work will in future only appear 
as a useful expedient; aye, the pure and the noble, 
which is now abandoned for the moment, will soon be 
resought with additional ardor. 

Merimee has treated these things very differently 
from his fellow-authors. These poems, it is true, are 
not deficient in various horrible motifs, such as church- 
yards, nocturnal crossroads, ghosts and vampires ; but 
the repulsive themes do not touch the intrinsic merit of 
the poet. On the contrary, he treats them from a certain 
objective distance, and, as it were, with irony. He 
goes to work with them like an artist, to whom it is 
an amusement to try anything of the sort. He has, 
as I have said before, quite renounced himself, nay, he 
has even renounced the Frenchman, and that to such 
a degree that at first these poems of Guzla were deemed 
real Illyrian popular poems, and thus little was want- 
ing for the success of the imposition he had intended. 

Extracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

Merimee, to be sure, is a splendid fellow ! Indeed, 
more power and genius are generally required for the 
objective treatment of a subject than is supposed. 
So Lord Byron, also, notwithstanding his predomi- 
nant personality, has sometimes had the power of re- 
nouncing himself altogether, as may be seen in some 
of his dramatic pieces, particularly in his Marino 
Faliero. In this piece one quite forgets that Lord 
Byron, or even an Englishman, wrote it. We live en- 
tirely in Venice, and entirely in the time in which the 
action takes place. The personages speak quite from 
themselves, and from their own condition, without hav- 
ing any of the subjective feelings, thoughts, and opin- 
ions of the poet. That is as it should be. Of our 
young French romantic writers of the exaggerating 
sort, one cannot say as much. What I have read of 
them — poems, novels, dramatic works — have all borne 
the personal coloring of the author, and none of them 
ever make me forget that a Parisian — that a French- 
man — wrote them. Even in the treatment of foreign 
subjects one still remains in France and Paris, quite 
absorbed in all the wishes, necessities, conflicts, and 
fermentations of the present day. 

Victor Hugo 

He has a fine talent, but quite entangled in the un- 
happy romantic tendency of his time, by which he is 
seduced to represent, together with what is beautiful, 
also that which is most insupportable and hideous. I 
have lately been reading his Notre Dame de Paris, and 
required no little patience to support the horror with 
which this reading has inspired me. It is the most 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

abominable book that ever was written! Besides, one 
is not even indemnified for the torture one has to en- 
dure by the pleasure one might receive from a truthful 
representation of human nature or human character. 
His book is, on the contrary, utterly destitute of na- 
ture and truth ! The so-called characters whom he 
brings forward are not human beings with living 
flesh and blood, but miserable wooden puppets, which 
he deals with as he pleases, and which he causes to 
make all sorts of contortions and grimaces just as he 
needs them for his desired effects. But what an age it 
must be which not only renders such a book possible 
and calls it into existence, but even finds it endurable 
and delightful. 

The " Idea " of Goethe's Tasso and Faust 

Idea ! as if I knew anything about it. I had the life 
of Tasso, I had my own life; and whilst I brought to- 
gether two odd figures with their peculiarities, the 
image of Tasso arose in my mind, to which I opposed, 
as a prosaic contrast, that of Antonio, for whom also 
I did not lack models. The further particulars of court 
life and love affairs were at Weimar as they were in 
Ferrara; and I can truly say of my production, it is 
bone of my hone, and flesh of my flesh. 

The Germans are, certainly, strange people. By 
their deep thoughts and ideas, which they seek in every- 
thing and fix upon everything, they make life much 
more burdensome than is necessary. Only have the 
courage to give yourself up to your impressions, allow 
yourself to be delighted, moved, elevated, nay, instructed 
and inspired for something great; but do not imagine 
all is vanity, if it is not abstract thought and idea. 

Extracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

Then they come and ask what idea I meant to em- 
body in my Faust. As if I knew myself and could 
inform them. From heaven, through the world, to hell, 
would indeed be something; but this is no idea, only 
a course of action. And further, that the devil loses 
the wager, and that a man, continually struggling from 
difficult errors towards something better, should be re- 
deemed, is an effective, and to many, a good enlighten- 
ing thought ; but it is no idea which lies at the founda- 
tion of the whole and of every individual scene. It 
would have been a fine thing, indeed, if I had strung 
so rich, varied, and highly diversified a life as I have 
brought to view in Faust upon the slender string of one 
pervading idea. 

It was, on the whole, not in my line, as a poet, to 
strive to embody anything abstract. 1 received in my 
mind impressions, and those of a sensuous, animated, 
charming, varied, hundredfold kind, just as a lively 
imagination presented them ; and I had, as a poet, noth- 
ing more to do than artistically to round off and elabo- 
rate such views and impressions, and by means of a 
lively representation so to bring them forward that 
others might receive the same impression in hearing or 
reading my repl-esentation of them. 

If I however wished, as a poet, to represent any 
idea, I did it in short poems, where a decided unity could 
prevail, as, for instance, in the Metamorphosis of Ani- 
mals, that of Plants, the poem Legacy, and many 
others. The only production of greater extent, in 
which I am conscious of having labored to set forth a 
pervading idea, is probably my Elective Affinities. This 
novel has thus become comprehensible to the intellect; 
but I will not say that it is therefore better. I am 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

rather of the opinion that the more incommensurable, 
and the more incomprehensible to the intellect, a poetic 
production is, so much the better it is. 


Yes, everything else about him was proud and majes- 
tic, only the eyes were soft. And his talent was like 
his outward form. He seized boldly on a great sub- 
ject, and turned it this way and that, and handled it 
this way and that. But he saw his object, as it were, 
only from the outside ; a quiet development from within 
was not his province. His talent was desultory. Thus 
he was never decided — could never have done. He often 
changed a part just before a rehearsal. 

And, as he went so boldly to work, he did not take 
sufficient pains about motives. I recollect what trou- 
ble I had with him when he wanted to make Gessler, in 
Tell, abruptly break an apple from the tree, and have 
it shot from the boy's head. This was quite against 
my nature, and I urged him to give at least some mo- 
tive to this barbarity, by making the boy boast to 
Gessler of his father's dexterity, and say that he could 
shoot an apple from a tree at a hundred paces. Schil- 
ler, at first, would have nothing of the sort : but at last 
he yielded to my arguments and intentions, and did as 
I advised him. I, on the other hand, by too great 
attention to motives^ kept my pieces from the theatre. 
My Eugenie is nothing but a chain of motives, and this 
cannot succeed on the stage. 

Schiller's genius was really made for the theatre. 
With every piece he progressed, and became more fin- 
ished ; but, strange to say, a certain love for the hor- 

Extracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

rible adhered to him from the time of the Robbers, 
which never quite left him even in his prime. I still 
recollect perfectly well that in the prison scene in my 
Egmont, where the sentence is read to him, Schiller 
would have made Alva appear in the background, 
masked and muffled in a cloak, enjoying the effect which 
the sentence would produce on Egmont. Thus Alva 
was to show himself insatiable in revenge and malice. 
I, however, protested, and prevented the apparition. 
He was a singular, great man. 

Every week he became different and more finished; 
each time that I saw him he seemed to me to have 
advanced in learning and judgment. His letters are 
the fairest memorials of him which I possess, and they 
are also among the most excellent of his writings. 

Edmburgh Review 

It IS a pleasure to me to see the elevation and ex- 
cellence to which the English critics now rise. There 
is not a trace of their former pedantry, but its place 
is occupied by great qualities. In the last article — the 
one on German literature — you will find the following 
remark : — " There are some poets who have a tendency 
always to occupy themselves with things which another 
likes to drive from his mind." What say you to this.? 
There we know at once where we are, and how we have 
to classify a great number of our most modern literati. 


Lord Byron is to be regarded as a man, as an Eng- 
lishman, and as a great genius. His good qualities 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

belong chiefly to the man, his bad to the Englishman 
and the peer, his talent is incommensurable. 

All Englishmen, as such, are without reflection, prop- 
erly so called; distractions and party spirit will not 
permit them to perfect themselves in quiet. But they 
are great as practical men. 

Thus Lord Byron could never attain reflection con- 
cerning himself, and on this account his maxims in gen- 
eral are not successful, as is shown by his creed, " much 
money and no authority," for much money always 
paralyzes authority. 

But where he creates he always succeeds ; and we 
may truly say that with him inspiration supplies the 
place of reflection. Something within him ever drove 
him to poetry, and then everything that came from 
the man, especially from his heart, was excellent. He 
produced his best things, as women do pretty children, 
without thinking about il or knowing how it was done. 
He is a great talent, a born talent, and I never 
saw the true poetical power greater in any man than 
in him. In the apprehension of external objects, and 
a clear penetration into past situations, he is quite as 
great as Shakespeare. But as a pure individuality, 
Shakespeare is his superior. This was felt by Byron, 
and on this account he does not say much of Shake- 
speare, although he knows whole passages by heart. 
He would willingly have denied him altogether; for 
Shakespeare's serenity is in his way, and he feels that 
he is no match for it. Pope he does not deny, for 
he had no cause to fear him. On the contrary, he 
mentions him, and shows him respect when he can, for 
he knows well enough that Pope is a mere foil to him- 

Eartracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

His high rank as an English peer was very injurious 
to Byron ; for every talent is oppressed by the outer 
world, — how much more, then, when there is such high 
birth and so great a fortune. A certain middle rank 
is much more favorable to talent, on which account 
we find all great artists and poets in the middle classes. 
Byron's predilection for the unbounded could not have 
been nearly so dangerous with more humble birth and 
smaller means. But as it was, he was able to put 
every fancy into practice, and this involved him in innu- 
merable scrapes. Besides, how could one of such high 
rank be inspired with awe and respect by any rank 
whatever? He expressed whatever he felt, and this 
brought him into ceaseless conflict with the world. 

Moreover, his perpetual negation and fault-finding 
is injurious even to his excellent works. For not only 
does the discontent of the poet infect the reader, but 
the end of all opposition is negation; and negation is 
nothing. If I call bad bad, what do I gain? But if 
I call good bad, I do a great deal of mischief. He who 
will work aright must never rail, must not trouble him- 
self at all about what is ill done, but only strive to do 
well himself. For the great point is not to pull down, 
but to build up, and in this humanity finds pure 

I could not make use of any man as the representative 
of the modern poetical era except him, who undoubtedly 
is to be regarded as the greatest genius of our cen- 
tury. Byron is neither antique nor romantic, but like 
the present day itself. This was the sort of man I 
required. Then he suited me on account of his unsatis- 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

fied nature and his warlike tendency, which led to his 
death at Missolonghi. 

Lord Byron is only great as a poet; as soon as he 
reflects, he is a child. 


Walter Scott's Fair Maid of Perth is excellent, is it 
not? There is finish! there is a hand! What a firm 
foundation for the whole, and in particular not a 
touch which does not lead to the goal! Then, what 
details of dialogue and description, both of which 
are excellent. His scenes and situations are like pic- 
tures by Teniers ; in the arrangement they show the 
summit of art, the individual figures have a speaking 
truth, and the execution is extended with artistic love to 
the minutest details, so that not a stroke is lost. 

You find everywhere in Walter Scott a remarkable 
security and thoroughness in his delineation, which pro- 
ceeds from his comprehensive knowledge of the real 
world, obtained by life-long studies and observations, 
and a daily discussion of the most important relations. 
Then come his great talent and his comprehensive na- 
ture. You remember the English critic who compares 
the poets to the voices of singers, of which some 
can command only a few fine tones, while others have 
the whole compass, from the highest to the lowest, com- 
pletely in their power. Walter Scott is one of this last 
sort. In the Fair Maid of Perth you will not find a 
single weak passage to make you feel as if his knowl- 
edge and talent were insufficient. He is equal to his 
subject in every direction in which it takes him; the 

Eactracts from Conversations with Eckermann 

king, the royal brother, the prince, the head of the 
clergy, the nobles, the magistracy, the citizens and me- 
chanics, the Highlanders, are all drawn with the same 
sure hand, and hit off with equal truth. 

The passage where the prince, sitting on horseback, 
makes the pretty minstrel girl step upon his foot, that 
he may raise her up for a kiss, is in the boldest English 
style. But you ladies are wrong always to take sides. 
Usually, you read a book to find nutrition for the heart, 
to find a hero whom you could love. This is not the 
way to read; the great point is not whether this or 
that character pleases, but whether the whole book 

But, when you have finished the Fair Maid of Perth, 
you must at once read Waverly, which is written from 
quite a different point of view, but which may, without 
hesitation, be set beside the best works that have 
ever been written in this world. We see that it is the 
same man who wrote the Fair Maid of Perth, but that 
he has yet to gain the favor of the public, and there- 
fore collects his forces so that he may not give a touch 
that is short of excellence. The Fair Maid of Perth, 
on the other hand, is from a freer pen ; the author is 
now sure of his public, and he proceeds more at lib- 
erty. After reading Waverley, you will understand 
why Walter Scott still designates himself the author 
of that work; for there he showed what he could do, 
and he has never since written anything to surpass, or 
even equal, that first published novel. 

Walter Scott is a great genius ; he has not his equal ; 
and we need not wonder at the extraordinary effect he 
produces on the whole reading world. He gives me 


Goethe's Literary Essays 

much to think of; and I discover in him a wholly new 
art, with laws of its own. 

We read far too many poor things, thus losing time, 
and gaining nothing. We should only read what we 
admire, as I did in my youth, and as I now experience 
with Sir Walter Scott. I have just begun Roh Roy, 
and will read his best novels in succession. All is great 
— material, import, characters, execution ; and then 
what infinite diligence in the preparatory studies ! what 
truth of detail in the execution! We see, too, what 
English history is ; and what a thing it is when such 
an inheritance falls to the lot of a clever poet. Our 
German history, in five volumes, is, on the other hand, 
sheer poverty. 

It is a peculiarity of Walter Scott's that his great 
talent in representing details often leads him into faults. 
Thus, in Ivanhoe, there is a scene where they are seated 
at a table in a castle-hall at night, and a stranger 
enters. Now, he is quite right in describing the stran- 
ger's appearance and dress, but it is a fault that he 
goes to the length of describing his feet, shoes, and 
stockings. When we sit down in the evening, and some 
one comes in, we see only the upper part of his body. 
If I describe the feet, daylight enters at once, and the 
scene loses its nocturnal character. 



I. On the Selection and Translation of the Essays 
In this Volume. 
II. On the Chronology of Goethe's Critical Studies. 


I. On the Selection and Translation of the Essays in this 


This book was first suggested to me in 1909^ and was 
virtually completed seven or eight years ago ; but the manu- 
script was mislaid among some old papers, and when it 
was recovered the European War was at its height. 
Never again, it then seemed, could I regard my work 
with the same disinterested temper in which it was 
begun, for what was recovered was no longer a manu- 
script but a ghost, no longer a book but a strange 
spirit returned from an all too irrecoverable past. When 
I re-read these words from the lips of one who had spent 
his life " with spirits god-like mild," and related them to 
our new and altered world, I understood once more how 
man forever fashions history to his own meaning, and how 
it has no life except such as is given to it by his creative 
mind. Every word I now read assumed a new and height- 
ened significance, a more intimate relation with life; and 
every word was a call to sympathy and understanding, — 
the word of a man who had withheld all hate from enemy 
France, had praised England and its literature, had anal- 
yzed the defects of his own countrymen, and had made 
constant denial of the compatability of poetry and par- 
tisanship. How could I approach work of this kind in the 
spirit of the fiery national partisan, not to mention that of 
the mere dryasdust scholar, when every word Goethe uttered 
shed light and meaning on the warm life about me, and 
every accent of his voice taught a high forebearance ? So 
when on sick-leave from my regiment at the very end of 
1917, to while away the tediousness of convalescence, I 



played once more with the work begun in the old days when 
I was still able to live in " the wise man's only country. 
Life"; and before I sailed for France, leaving behind me 
the manuscript as it here stands, I determined that 
if it were ever published, I should add nothing in the form 
of preface, introduction, or critical apparatus, but allow 
Goethe to speak for himself to such hearts as could hear 
and understand him. Some readers may find a key to that 
understanding if they begin with the famous passage on 
"Poetry and Patriotism" on page 251. 

No adequate estimate of Goethe's critical work has yet 
been achieved; and the sensible but unilluminating chapter 
on this subject in the late Calvin Thomas's Goethe is 
not much more disappointing than the more extended 
studies in German of Oskar Walzel and Wilhelm Bode. 
For a complete estimate of Goethe as a critic we should 
have to ransack all his essays and reviews, his novels and 
poems, his autobiography and his journals, his letters and 
conversations, for in all of them he has scattered judgments 
on books and thoughts on the theory of art. It would al- 
most seem as if his reputation as a critic rests more securely 
on these casual utterances than on his formal essays and 
studies. There more than elsewhere Sainte-Beauve and 
Matthew Arnold recognized "the supreme critic"; there 
above all we find that mellow wisdom which we have come 
to associate with Goethe's name. 

In this little volume, however, we have most of Goethe's 
successive moods represented by some characteristic utter- 
ance, — the young reviewer, the lover of Shakespeare and 
Gothic art, rebelling against schools and rules but most of 
all against dullness and formality; the contributor to Wie- 
land's German Mercury, the collaborator of Schiller in the 
Horen and in an exchange of letters of incomparable inter- 
est, after the life of Weimar and the journey to Italy had 
mellowed his talents; the student of art and aesthetics in 
the Propylaen, championing the antique spirit and voicing 


a protest against the excesses of romanticism; the more 
thoughtful but still sympathetic student of Shakespeare, 
enthOsiastic in Wilhelm Meister, more temperate in Shake- 
speare ad Infinitum; the mature reviewer, welcoming the 
publication of old German and foreign folksongs, and hail- 
ing in turn Byron, Manzoni, Carlyle, Niebuhr, and all the 
young French and German writers of his day; and finally, 
the literary dictator in his old age, as shown in the careless 
and incessant wisdom of his recorded conversation. We 
have here, it is true, a very small part of his extraordinary 
output, but quite enough to form a just judgment of his 
place among the great critics. In a career so extended and 
a mind so active and all-embracing we must expect to find 
inconsistencies and errors of judgment. Some of the ideas 
in this volume have only an historical interest; a perverse 
mind might indeed garner from it an anthology of critical 
errors. It was not these which won for him from so many 
the title of " supreme critic," but rather the sanity, insight, 
and impartiality of his mind and his extraordinary gift for 
foreseeing the direction of critical thought. 

All of the selections in Part I, except the essay on " Ger- 
man Architecture," have been taken from Goethe's Essays 
on ^rf, translated by S. G. Ward (Boston, 1845). Wilhelm 
Meister's critique of Hamlet has been excerpted from Car- 
lyle's rendering of Wilhelm Meister's Lehrjahre. The ver- 
sion of John Oxenford has been used for the selections 
from the Conversations with Eckermann, and Oxenford's 
version, as revised by Miss M. S. Smith, for the selection 
from Goethe's Autobiography. The remaining essays were 
translated by the late Randolph S. Bourne, by Professor 
F. W. J. Heuser, and by myself. I am indebted to Mr. 
Bourne for translating the following essays : " On Ger- 
man Architecture," " Shakespeare ad Infinitum," " The 
First Edition of Hamlet," " Troilus and Cressida," " The 
Methods of French Criticism," " Supplement to Aristotle's 
Poetics" " Tieck's Dramaturgic Fragments," " On the Ger- 



man Theatre/* " Didactic Poetry/* " Superstition and 
Poetry/' " The Theory of a World Literature/' " Byron's 
Manfred/* *' Byron's Don Juan," " Calderon's Daughter of 
the Air" " Moliere's Misanthrope" ** Folksongs again 
Commended/' and " Laurence Sterne." Professor Heuser 
has translated the following: " The Production of a Na- 
tional Classic/' " Epic and Dramatic Poetry/' and " Eng- 
lish Reviewers." I have made material changes and cor- 
rections in almost all the translations, but on the whole 
each translator should be held responsible for the accuracy 
and style of his own work. For the selection and arrange- 
ment of the material, and for the titles given to some of 
the excerpts, I am alone responsible. 

Some of Goethe's judgments on books, and his maxims 
on life and art, have already appeared in volumes of selec- 
tions in English translation; but no other work in any 
language, so far as I am aware, attempts to include in a 
single volume the whole range of Goethe's critical and 
aesthetic studies. Some of the selections have never before 
appeared in English. 

J. E. S. 

Troutbeck, May, 1919. 

Since the above was written, I have become greatly 
indebted to Lord Haldane for contributing the Foreword, 
and especially to Professor Friedrich Bruns for reading 
the proofsheets and revising some of the translations. Miss 
L. Bonino has prepared the Index. J. E. S. 

New York^ September, 1921. 


II. On the Chronology of Goethe's Critical Studies 

The following chronology of Goethe's critical activity is 
intended chiefly to indicate the original sources of the 
selections in the present volume. 

1772-73. Reviews in the Frankfurter gelehrten Anzetgen: 

Goethe as a Young Reviewer (reviews of Blum's 

Lyrische Gedichte, and Sulzer's Cymhelline, ein 

Trauerspiel, nach einem von Shakespeare erfundnen 

Staff e, both translated in full). 

1773. Von deutscher Baukunst: 

On German Architecture (complete translation). 
1788 sq. Articles in Wieland's Teutscher Merkur: 

Simple Imitation of Nature, Manner, Style {XJher 
Italien: Einfache Nachahmung der Natur, Manier, 
Stil, complete translation). 
1794-1805. Correspondence of Goethe and Schiller: 

Epic and Dramatic Poetry (complete translation); 
also footnote on page 104. 
1795-96. Wilhelm Meister*s Lehrjahre: 

Wilhelm Meister's Critique of Hamlet, 
1795-97. Articles in Die Horen: 

The Production of a National Classic (Literarischer 
SansculottismuSy complete translation except for four 
introductory paragraphs). 
1798-1800. Articles in Die Propylden: 
Introduction to the Propylaea. 
On Laocoon (complete translation). 
On Truth and Probability in Works of Art (complete 

The Collector and his Friends. 
Notes on Dillettantism. (By Goethe and Schiller). 



1804 sq. Reviews in the Jenaische Allgemeine Literatur- 

Old German Folksongs (review of Des Knahen Wun- 
derhorn, translated in full except that only a few 
of Goethe's characterizations of individual poems are 
1811-14. Dichtung und Wahrheit (Autobiography): 

German Literature in Goethe's Youth (selected pas- 
sages from part ii, book 7) ; also footnote on page 14 
(from part ii, book 10). 
1815 sq. Articles in the Morgenblatt fiir gehildete Stdnde: 

Shakespeare ad Infinitum, parts i-ii, written 1813 
{Shakespeare und kein Ende, complete translation). 

On the German Theatre (complete translation). 
!1816-S2. Articles in Uber Kunst und Alterthum: 

Ancient and Modern. 

The Theory of a World Literature, part i (review of 
Duval's Le Tasse), part ii {Beziige nach Aussen, 
complete translation), part iii (Edinburgh Reviews) , 
part V (review of Carlyle's Leben Schillers). 

Supplement to Aristotle's Poetics (complete transla- 

On Didactic Poetry (complete translation). 

Superstition and Poetry (Justus Moser). 

The Methods of French Critics (Urteilsworte franso- 
sischer Kritiker, complete translation). 

On Criticism, § 1 (review of Manzoni's Carmagnola), 
§ 3 (review of Rochlitz's Fiir Freunde der Ton- 

The First Edition of Hamlet (complete translation). 

Byron's Manfred (complete translation). 

Byron's Don Juan (complete translation). 

Calderon's Daughter of the Air (complete translation). 

Moliere's Misanthrope (review of Taschereau's His- 
toire de la Vie et des Ouvrages de Moliere, complete 
translation) . 



Shakespeare ad Infinitum, part iii, written 1816, pub- 
lished 1826 (complete translation). 

Folksongs again Commended (complete translation). 

Laurence Sterne (complete translation). 

The English Reviewers (review of Manzoni's Car- 
magnola) . 
1822-32. Gesprdche mit Goethe in den letzten Jahren seines 
Lehens, by J, P. Eckermann (published 1836-48) : 

Extracts from Goethe's Conversations with Eckermann. 
Posthumous Works (Nachgelassene Werhe, 1833): 

Tieck's Dramaturgic Fragments (complete transla- 

Troilus and Cressida (JJher die Parodie hei den Alien). 




Anacreon, 239. 

Aristotle, 104 sg. 

Arnault, Antoine Vincent, 258. 

Arnim, Achim von, 213 sg. 

Bliimner, Heinrich, 184, 
Blum, J. C, 199 sq. 
Blumauer, Alois, 206. 
Bodmer, Johann Jakob, 233, 

Breitinger, Johann Jakob, 231, 

Brentano, Clemens, 213 sq. 
Biirger, Gottfried August, 74, 

Burns, Robert, 262. 
Byron, 202 sq., 263, 268, 270, 

276, 279, 283 sq. 

Calderon, 208 sq., 251, 269, 273, 

Carlyle, Thomas, 267 sq., 293. 
Characteristic art, 11, 37. 
Chinese literature, 249. 
Chodowiecki, Daniel Nicolaus, 

Claudius, Matthias, 74. 
Cousin, Victor, 97. 
Criticism, theory of, 134, 140, 

224, 230, 276, 283. 

Diderot, Denys, 138. 

Drama, and Theatre, 50, 75, 79, 

100, 104, 109, 126, 158, 170, 

179, 184, 190, 268 ^g. 
Diirer, Albrecht, 13. 

Erwin von Steinbach, 3, 7, 10, 

Fabroni, Angelo, 40. 
Folksongs, 213, 220, 267. 
Frederick the Great, 241. 
Furnstein, Anton, 259. 

Gellert, Christian Fiirchtegott, 

Gessner, Salomon, 74, 239. 
Gleim, Johann Wilhelm Lud- 

wig, 236, 242, 244. 
Goldsmith, Oliver, 256. 
Gottsched, Johann Christoph, 

230 sq., 239 sq. 
Gozzi, Count Carlo, 272. 
Gries, Johann Dietrich, 210. 
Grimm, Friedrich Melchior, 

Baron von, 138 sq. 
Guizot, Francois Pierre Guil- 

laume, 97. 
Giinther, Johann Christian, 234. 

Haller, Albrecht von, 235. 
Hamann, Johann Georg, 14. 
Handel, Georg Friedrich, 107. 
Herder, Johann Gottfried von, 

14, 262. 
Hirt, Alois, 36. 
Homer, 10, 240. 
Horace, 136, 199 sq., 231, 

239 sq. 
Hugo, Victor, 279 sq. 
Humboldt, Karl Wilhelm, 

Baron von, 257. 
Huysum, Jan van, 62. 

Iffland, August Wilhelm, 113. 

Johnson, Samuel, 201. 



Kant, Immanuel, 257. 

Kleist, Ewald Christian von, 

240 sq. 
Kleist, Heinrich von, 126. 
Klopstock, Friedrich Gottlieb, 

74, 112, 236, 244. 
Konig, Johann Ulrich von, 

233 sq. 
Korner, Theodor, 251. 

Laocoon, 22, 24 5^., 33 sg., 39, 

Laugier, Marc Antoine, 14. 
Leonardo da Vinci, 68, 256. 
Lessing, 38, 112, 232, 236, 244, 

257, 269. 
Lichtenberg, Georg Christoph, 

Lichtwer, M. G., 232. 
Liscow, Christian Ludwig, 228. 
Lowell, James Russell, 179. 

Mannerists, 36, 64, 67. 
Manzoni, Aiessandro, 205, 253, 

Matthisson, Friedrich von, 250. 
Menander, 275. 
Merimee, Prosper, 278 5^. 
Michelangelo, 68. 
Milton, 240. 
Moliere, 212, 269, 212 sq. 

Napoleon, 252. 

Nicolai, Christoph Friedrich, 

Niebuhr, B. G., 293. 
Novel, the, 170. 

Oeser, Adam Friedrich, 237. 
Originality, 255. 

Perugino, 68. 

Pindar, 240. 

Plato, 256. 

Pope, Alexander, 239, 284. 

Rabener, Gottlieb Wilhelm, 

228 sq. 
Ramler, Karl Wilhelm, 235 sq., 



Raphael, 68. 

Richardson, Samuel, 249. 
Romanticism, 179, 263, 277. 
Rubens, 69. 
Ruysch, Rachel, 62. 

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm 

Joseph von, 267. 
SchiUer, 38, 100, 104, 109 sg., 

115 sq., 119 sq., 129, 184, 191, 

255, 257, 264 sq., 268, 272 sq., 

282 sq., 292. 
Schlegel, August Wilhelm von, 

257, 269, 21Qsq. 
Schlegel, Friedrich von, 257, 

Schlegel, Johann Elias, 239. 
Schroeder, Friedrich Ludwig, 

124, 188 5g. 
^chubarth, Karl Ernst, 65. 
Scott, Sir Walter, 2SQ sq. 
Seylerin (i.e., Sophie Fried- 

rike Seyler), 118. 
Shakespeare, 65 ^g., 124, 127, 

136, 145 5g., 171 5g., 181 5g., 

200 sg., 204, 20Q sq., 225, 

238, 254, 256, 268 *g., 272, 

275, 284. 
Steevens, George, 193. 
Sterne, Laurence, 222, 256. 
Style, 61, 265. 
Sulzer, J. G., 200 ^g. 

Taschereau, J., 212. 
Theatre, see Drama. 
Thomson, James, 252. 
Tieck, Ludwig, 126 ^g. 

Uvaroff, Count, 137. 

Villemain, Abel Francois, 97. 

Virgil, 34 5g., 240. 

Voss, Johann Heinrich, 262. 

Wieland, Christoph Martin, 
74, 86, 164, 236 *g., 292. 

Winckelmann, Johann Joachim, 
38, 257. 

World Literature, 89 5g., 267.